Olaf

Henrik Ibsen
Ottisdotter
Barons Court Theatre

Grace Monroe (Alfhild) and Teddy Robson (Olaf) Credit: ottisdotter
Rebekka Magnúsdóttir (Lady Kirsten) Credit: ottisdotter
Che Watson (Lord Arne) Credit: ottisdotter

In a fluent 1921 translation by Anders Orbeck, the theatre company Ottisdotter gives a clear, accessible performance of Olaf, a naturalistic romance which makes an occasional dash into melodrama.

It lets us glimpse some of the themes that were later to figure prominently in Ibsen’s great plays. There is the individual struggling against the chains of tradition. Women are shown asserting themselves. There is also the unsettling context of a mountainous and mysterious landscape.

However, first staged in 1857 when the twenty-nine-year-old Ibsen was still developing his ability as a writer, the play has many weaknesses.

It takes too long to say very little in a not very interesting manner. The company has made some sensitive cuts to the text but it still runs close to two and a half hours

It depicts four young people trapped in a dilemma.

Lord Arne Of Guldvik (Che Watson) has arranged for his daughter Ingeborg( Sarah Madden) to marry Olaf (Teddy Robson) the son of Lady Kirsten Liljekrans (Rebekka Magnúsdóttir). The problem is that Olaf loves (in a dreamy, otherworldly way) Alfhild (Grace Monroe) who lives with her father among the barren wastes of the mountains and Ingeborg loves the family servant Hemming (Joe Lewis).

As Lord Arne (Che Watson) brings Ingeborg to the wedding, he learns that Olaf has gone missing. He already has his doubts about the grand family they are marrying into. For a start, they drink wine and he drinks ale.

There is a gentle, comic tilt to the play that never takes itself too seriously. The light, frothy story with its two-dimensional characters simply follows a predictable romantic formula.

And that probably contributes to the lack of dramatic tension.

All the same, it will no doubt appeal to Ibsen enthusiasts and those who like their theatre to be a slow-moving affair.

Reviewer: Keith Mckenna