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There’s absolutely nothing festive about the second production in the Donmar’s season showcasing the work of its Resident Assistant Directors.

But with a sparklingly bitchy new version by Conor McPherson, Ibsen’s 1900 account of a marriage made in hell proves exceptionally entertaining.

Kevin R McNally and Indira Varma are on top form as the mismatched couple – ailing military captain Edgar who’s too fond of drink and his considerably younger wife. Alice, a former actress – who are approaching their silver wedding anniversary.

Isolated by both the garrison’s island location and their scorn for those around them, their venomous verbal sparring has become their main means of entertainment. The unexpected arrival of her cousin, Kurt (the man who introduced them and now the newly appointed Quarantine Master) adds a new dimension to the poisonous mix and, Alice, sensing the possibility of escape, steps up the vitriol.

Titas Halder’s production zings along, yet beneath the mutual hatred, there’s the occasional telling glimpse of sympathies shared and the suggestion that – just like George and Martha in Albee’s Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? – a deep-seated dependence on their cruelly destructive animosity imprisons them as surely as the former jail which (in Richard Kent’s intentionally unwelcoming design) serves as their marital home.

Trafalgar Studios, Whitehall, SW1A 2DY
Tube: Charing Cross 
Closes 5th January  (£22) 
donmarwarehouse.com


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