Ibsen on Theatre
Edited by Frode Helland and Julie Holledge
Nick Hern Books
Nick Hern Books has already published books on Shakespeare and Chekhov in this series so it seemed an obvious development to choose Henrik Ibsen for this very special attention.
The volume is edited by two professors from the Centre for Ibsen Studies at the University of Oslo, whose commentaries are always useful and attempt to bring together everything that they have managed to tease out on the subject.
In addition to letters, journal entries, introductions to plays and articles written by the great man, there also recollections and anecdotes from those in his circle.
The biggest problem with this publication is Ibsen's apparent reluctance to commit himself to writing about his work. For the most part, readers will be left to enjoy morsels that will undoubtedly help them to understand what motivated the Norwegian who spent so much of his writing life in exile.
The book opens with a chapter entitled Ibsen on Ibsen, before going into four sections containing everything available in connection with his plays. These can be illuminating but are generally spare, although the frustrations of being a playwright in the 19th century shine through.
Some of his biggest concerns are more directly addressed in the chapter on Copyright and Translation, which will be a real eye-opener for writers today. In the early stages of his career, Ibsen and his peers had no protective rights over their writings, which could be purloined and pirated in bad versions by anyone who felt the inclination. Worse, the writers received no recompense.
The the final part looks at the sometimes difficult relationship between Ibsen and the Christiania Theater.
By the end of the book, readers will almost certainly be wishing that Ibsen had been more prolific and more open in his writings around the stage work but should also be rather better informed about the man and his canon.
This means that the target market is almost certainly going to be academics and students with an interest in the playwright and good knowledge of his work, although directors and actors might also benefit from getting at least a brief look into the mind of the playwright whose plays they might be planning to bring to the stage.
Reviewer: Philip Fisher