Henrik Ibsen’s early play, directed by Mark Ewbank, comes to the stage of The Space, where I am reviewing from an on-demand digital version.
Kristin Duffy plays the lead part, with Thomas Everatt as Olaf Skaktavi and Ivan Comisso as Dane Nils Lykke, her visitors. Juliet Ibberson plays Elina (remaining daughter and pawn), Siôn Grace plays Bjørn, with Joe Lewis as Nils Stenson.
We are in 16th century Scandinavia. Lady Inger (based on the real-life landowner, heiress, and political intriguer. She is one of Ibsen’s strong fenale characters but rather in prototype when compared to Hedda Gabler or Nora Helmer.
A mother of five daughters, a Lutherian, and meddler in the Swedish monarchist succession, Lady Inger remains a fascinating character, yet in Ibsen’s universe and in Ottisdotter’s production, the roles of Skaktavi and Lykke are the most intriguing, tweaking the strings.
At 2 hours 20 minutes, and being on of the Norwegian dramatist’s lesser known works, programming and performing Lady Inger is a risk. It is a political thriller in a man’s world, and an absorbing glimpse into the fledgling work which led into the great Ibsen oeuvre.
When Duffy is on stage, she displays both dignity and duplicity, teamed with the knowledge of the fates of her other daughters. Ibberson is in towering form as the daughter who sees more than she should, but remains easy to manipulate from all sides.
The Space’s setting of a forner church stands in perfectly for the rich hall in Norway that displays portraits and hides intrigue in its shadows.
A wider, unseen populace is brought to life by sound and suggestion, as Lady Inger’s authority and refuge stand on the brink of revolt and violence. The walls and cellars hold restless spirits and angry souls.
Ottisdotter’s adaptation prunes the text, removes most of the asides,and modernises a lot of the language, stepping up the pace and making the play accessible to the here and now.
The final act does feel rushed and heavily weighted on conjecture and coincidence, yet there is still room to find a cautious pity for Inger, who is the cause of her own fate and that of those around her.
Lady Inger is by no means a perfect play, very much feeling its way with a cluttered plot, but this production strips away a lot of the unnecessary padding Ibsen would have surely cut had this been written later in life.
Lady Inger is available on-demand from The Space until 22 Jul: tickets here.