Sofia Jupither delivers a pointed and pertinent production of Ibsen’s timeless Little Eyolf.
Alfred Almers (Kåre Conradi) has returned home from a writing retreat to follow his new vocation, raising his son, Eyolf (Sebastian Sørlie Lamb). But in The National Theatre of Norway’s production (their first appearance in the UK in 18 years), when Alfred first enters he bursts through the Print Room’s swinging door without thought for his son following behind, and the door naturally slams in Eyolf’s face. What does this moment tell us? Jupither conveys from the outset that Alfred’s reasons for abandoning his writing are more about his own mid-life crisis as Eyolf is fatefully forgotten about in this play.
Ine Jansen gives a striking and subtle performance as Asta Almers (though she has no claim to this surname, as it transpires). She is a woman torn between the honest Borghejm (John Emil Jørgensrud) and her pseudo-incestuous love for her brother. This element of Greek tragedy is demonstrable of how Ibsen can convey epic stories through the microcosmic prism of one Norwegian family.
Sørlie Lamb looks angelic in his white Real Madrid home kit as he follows the Rat-Wife into the sea and drowns. His death is the only real event in the play. In the lead up and fall out of this event, Conradi and Pia Tjelta give an authentic and captivating performance of the conversations of a marriage on the brink. As they volley blame, anger and regret around the stage, we are unaware that nothing is actually happening. Their inner turmoil is the drama of this piece.
Erlend Birkeland’s set reflects the brevity of the production as a whole. It consists of grey wood and terracotta soft furnishings. After Eyolf’s death, the brightly coloured padding is stripped away. As Alfred looks onto the fjord in Act Two, we sense the set reflecting the harsh landscape into which Eyolf has been swept away.
Jupither does not shy away from taking time and space to allow the audience to reflect when it’s needed, and this is one of the production’s greatest strengths. In the scene change between Acts One and Two, the stage crew slowly and piously go about their work. When one traverses the stage with a hazer, they echo a priest with a censer, leading a coffin, the incense wafting. The tactful sparsity of this production allows each image and utterance to land on point.