Rob Howell’s set design is very effective. Avoiding the obvious large steeple, the set is slanted up to the sky, even the mundane bookcases and office windows. It’s relatively subtle and restrained but this reflects David Hare’s adaptation. If only the incidental music had done the same; easily the worst score I’ve heard for a play. The ominous twinkling sounded like an accidental ringtone, coming in heavy-handedly whenever Fate is mentioned.
Whilst the adaptation is faithful, Hare keeps the play confined within ‘typical’ Ibsen social realism. The dialogue flows well but it doesn’t elevate the play, which is full of sublime imagery. Hare misses the subtleties of translation; for example, when Hilde exclaims how wonderful it would be to be ‘taken’, in Hare’s translation she says ‘kidnapped’, missing the obvious double-meaning and making no sense as a substitute.
Ultimately the play is a two-hander and rides mainly on the chemistry between Solness and Hilde. Though Snook has pitched her accent as too plummy, she pulls off a challenging role. Her Hilde is not a bunny boiler but simply a girl who has idolised Solness for ten years. Snook shows Hilde as playfully seductive with an underlying purity. She is genuinely sympathetic towards Aline and Ragnar; a performance that compliments Fiennes’. Fiennes’ Solness is manipulative, leading on his female bookkeeper in order to prevent her husband Ragnar from running his own business and thereby toppling Solness’ reputation. However underneath that is a man who is plagued by demons and dark desires. Fiennes avoids putting too much emphasis on sexual tension and Freudian implications of tall steeples. Ultimately his Solness seeks the love that his traumatised wife cannot give him and in sharing Hilde’s fantasies, he becomes deified by her love.
Linda Emond as Aline starts off as surprisingly robust, which makes for a great payoff when she reveals to Hilde that losing her children was fate but the burning of her dolls was tragic. Hilde’s honesty makes Aline as well as Solness confront their demons, which is why Snook’s guileless-but-beguiling interpretation works.
Whilst Ibsen’s minor masterpiece is performed here with gentleness rather than the ferocity the text demands, it is still a decent production- and a relief that Ibsen’s genius as a playwright is appreciated.