Reviews are coming in for the revival of Ibsen’s play John Gabriel Borkman at The Bridge theatre in London, which started previews on 24 September 2022.
The production stars Simon Russell Beale in the title role, with Clare Higgins as Gunhild Borkman and Lia Williams as Ella Rentheim. Also, Sebastian De Souza as Erhart Borkman, Daisy Ou as Frida Foldal, Laila Rouass as Fanny Wilton and Michael Simkins as Wilhelm Foldal.
Directed by Nicholas Hytner, this new version of Henrik Ibsen’s John Gabriel Borkman is by Lucinda Coxon, and runs at the Bridge Theatre until 26 November 2022.
The creative team includes set designs by Anna Fleischle, costume designs by Liam Bunster, lighting by James Farncombe and sound by Gareth Fry.
John Gabriel Borkman reviews
"Simon Russell Beale shines in Ibsen’s leaden melodrama"
"It’s a measure of Beale’s charisma that he persuades us to follow Borkman’s saga to its bleak conclusion. Even so, you’re still left wondering why director Nicholas Hytner thought it worth resurrecting a play which, even in this modern version by Lucinda Coxon, slips so readily into bombast and all-guns-blazing melodrama. The play only lasts an hour and three quarters, without an interval, yet feels longer."
"Best to extract some nourishment from the finer details. Beale’s every gesture commands attention, even when he is at his most rumpled."
"This unsympathetic Ibsen is hard going"
"The three central performances are focused and intense, but even Simon Russell Beale can’t leaven the gloom"
"Not even a trio of our finest actors, under the guiding hand of Nicholas Hytner, can bring to life this version of Ibsen’s penultimate play, in which three bitter characters operate at the same anguished emotional pitch throughout."
"... it’s a bleak, hard-going, interval-free 100 minutes until Beale gets to bellow Borkman’s grandiose last speech on top of a frozen Norwegian hill, Williams by his side like a saucer-eyed angel of death. It’s right that we don’t feel unearned sympathy for these characters: wrong that we feel no convincing human connection with them at all."
"Hard to take seriously "
"Cut loose from its period detail and set in a contemporary 'palace' of embossed concrete, I found Lucinda Coxon's adaptation hard to take seriously."
"Trickiest of all is Russell Beale's role as the former Norse oligarch (pictured left). Too cuddly to be tragic, he looks like a frazzled King Lear who's overdone the marmalade sandwiches."
"Solid rather than sensational"
"This new version by Lucinda Coxon gives it a modern-day setting but leaves much of the linguistic formality intact, while Nicholas Hytner’s production is glacially elegant. There are bouts of sour humour, and the mood is of a game of cat’s cradle with razor wire. But it’s all very conventional: you long for a revealing flash of reinvention that never quite comes."
"Russell Beale is both snarling, contemptuous, misogynistic bully and thwarted little boy, bellowing and stamping his feet in frustration. Eventually breaking out of his self-imposed confinement, he tears off his cardigan in the biting wind in a Lear-like crazed ecstasy. It’s a piteous spectacle in a staging that, if granite-solid rather than sensational, leaves a lingering, acrid aftertaste."
"Not even Simon Russell Beale can shore up Ibsen’s financial-crisis drama"
"The Bridge Theatre's staging of this play about the aftermath of self-inflicted monetary disaster should feel bracingly topical, and yet..."
"... what should seem gripping and on-the-money proves frustratingly in need of a theatrical stimulus, and even the trusty bazooka of Simon Russell Beale in the lead lacks full fire-power. Given the talent on board, the deficit is odd."
"Sour, regretful Ibsen still has much to tell us about the human cost of success – but his grim tidings need lustier pickaxe strokes."
"Simon Russell Beale and Lia Williams are wonderful in Ibsen’s eccentric, elegiac late play"
"Finally revived by Nicholas Hytner at the Bridge after years of pandemic-related delays, the relatively little-seen ‘John Gabriel Borkman’ feels less like an Ibsen tragedy, more an epilogue to one of them."
"It’s all very bleak, but Lucinda Coxon’s adaptation palpably and surprisingly lightens up when we move upstairs to meet Simon Russell Beale’s Borkman. Yes, he’s an embittered ruin of a man. But a combination of his uncrushed self-belief, a certain innate decency, and his weirdly charming relationship with his last loyal friend Willhelm (Michael Simkins) serves to give things a blackly humorous piquancy that livens up the play no end."
"It’s an eccentric play, and undeniably less ‘important’ feeling than Ibsen’s prodigious greatest hits. But it has a whipsmart humour and wonderful momentum to it: a depiction of frozen lives finally experiencing one last calamitous thaw before the end of their days. Hytner directs fluidly and kinetically, and the lack of an interval is a smart idea to keep the pace up and stop it from getting too cosy"
"Simon Russell Beale magnetic as the shamed alpha-male banker"
"Turning to a lesser-staged work by Ibsen might seem risky, but Nicholas Hytner’s production is held together by some powerhouse performances"
"Reviving a lesser-staged Ibsen play might be deemed high risk in times when many venues are cleaving to safe programming choices. Director Nicholas Hytner should be commended for it, though there is the insurance policy of three formidable actors at its heart. The gamble half pays off...."
"What holds it together is its powerhouse performances from Clare Higgins, Lia Williams and most magnetically of all, Simon Russell Beale"
"The modernised language lays bare some of the play’s odd lines and tricky tonal shifts, too – it swings from despairing humour to naturalistic family drama and then to its convulsive last moments which brings intimations of King Lear’s heath scene."
"Although Beale is, as always, delicious to watch, his voice so civilised and English, it doesn’t quite work. He lacks savagery. This Borkman does not stride up and down in bitter turmoil. He plods"
"Anna Fleischle’s design offers angsty greys and whites, the final misty outdoors scene evoking Scandinavian winter. Daisy Ou’s piano-playing on a high balcony is dramatically intense and Michael Simkins’s Willhelm, Borkman’s one friend, shows us drab normality. Maybe the world needs Borkmans after all. But this one is insufficiently feral."
"Simon Russell Beale is doubly commanding as Ibsen’s charismatic banker in a problem-raising revival"
"Nicholas Hytner’s production, even with Simon Russell Beale, Clare Higgins and Lia Williams in the main roles is an evening of only intermittent splendours"
"The problems are not with the performances – Sebastian de Souza and Michael Simkins provide striking cameos – but with an overemphatic production. Anna Fleischle’s design – concrete walls and a Hedda Gabler stove – looms too obviously. Saint-Saëns’s Danse Macabre is played too loudly and too long. Most of all, the updating raises more problems than relevances..."
"This is kind of distilled Ibsen: a combination of bitter black humour, detailed psychological acuity and wild symbolism. Rather than dramatise the betrayals, it cuts straight to the emotional devastation that follows"
"Nicholas Hytner comes at this bitter, heady brew with a stellar cast — Simon Russell Beale as Borkman, Clare Higgins as Gunhild and Lia Williams as Ella — and a huge concrete set from Anna Fleischle that emphasises the way the past has become a tomb"
"Even so, the staging never quite gets the mix of styles to cohere. The symbolism too often feels heavy-handed and, for all the mesmerising precision of the performances, you’re hard pushed to care about these people or their plight. Intermittently gripping, it’s still an uphill evening."
"Ibsen’s bleakly comic drama has it all"
"A banker is imprisoned for embezzlement after gambling with his clients' money to finance a project of his own. On his release, he spends his remaining years blaming everyone but himself."
"Director Nicholas Hytner delivers Lucinda Coxon’s lean new version with aplomb. Higgins, Williams and Russell Beale are all superb and well supported by De Souza and Ony Uhiara as Erhart’s almost-too-outrageous love interest."