Fear and loathing in the fjords of Nor­way

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Ros­mer­sholm (Duke of York’s Theatre, Lon­don) Ver­dict: Heavy­weight act­ing for heavy­weight drama

TOM BURKE is turn­ing into one of our finest young ac­tors. If you only know him from Strike, or The Mus­ke­teers on TV, head to the Duke of York’s, and you’ll be in for a pleas­ant sur­prise.

But then, Ian Rick­son’s re­vival of Ib­sen’s ig­nored 1886 drama is packed with riv­et­ing per­for­mances, in­clud­ing ones from Giles Ter­era and Hay­ley Atwell. The play needs them: this is Ib­sen in extreme gothic mode . . . and slightly bonkers.

Burke plays Ros­mer, a for­mer pas­tor who’s lost his faith af­ter read­ing rad­i­cal lit­er­a­ture. We find him mourn­ing a wife who crushed her­self to death in the town wa­ter­mill. Happy days!

As un­rest spreads across Nor­way, Ros­mer is pur­sued by an omi­nously lib­er­ated young woman (Atwell). She is a live-in femme fa­tale de­ter­mined to hold him to his im­pos­si­ble revo­lu­tion­ary ideals.

He is fur­ther torn be­tween his de­vout brother-in-law Kroll (Ter­era) and a rad­i­cal news­pa­per edi­tor ( Jake Fair­brother). The scene is set for a Her­culean strug­gle be­tween tra­di­tion and conscience.

Burke’s fath­om­lessly in­tense Ros­mer makes Im­manuel Kant sound like a co­me­dian. Atwell is a firestorm in a pleated frock, seek­ing do­min­ion over her thoughts, body and fu­ture.

No less im­pres­sive is Ter­era, who de­mands we take se­ri­ously his re­ac­tionary moral­ist who equates women and chil­dren with ser­vants and horses.

Peter Wight de­liv­ers a fab­u­lous cameo as a de­ranged vagabond. Fair­brother is rep­til­ian as the edi­tor. And I loved Lucy Bri­ers’ house­keeper, scan­ning the room at ev­ery en­trance.

But ku­dos, too, to Rae Smith’s set. Her vi­sion of a stately home is like a mouldy, de­vour­ing maw.

Heavy? You bet! But act­ing of this qual­ity should not be left to chin-stroking Ib­sen fans.

Tom Burke: Tor­mented

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