We seldom get to see any Ibsen from before he hit the peak of his dramatic powers. This 1863 historical epic, his first major success, chronicles a war of succession in 13th-century Norway. Haakon has supreme faith in his own cause; Skule (a grippingly tormented David Calder) refuses to yield the throne despite believing his claim is fraudulent beside Haakon's. So: lots of agonising about the pursuit of power, what it means, and whether it's worth the sacrifice of ties of blood and heart. Skule's illegitimate son gives him a bloodline to fight for, but in the heat of battle goes psycho, desecrating the nation's holiest relics.
Ibsen's construction creaks on occasion, but Chris Hannan's lithe version keeps the vital currents flowing, and a consistently responsive cast fluently rings the changes from battlefield to Mephistophelean conclave and all points between. The play's neglect turns out to have been less than just, as evidenced by this taut, muscular rendition.
Written for City Limits magazine.
Copyright © Ian Shuttleworth; all rights reserved.
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