Something has been gnawing away at Rita and Alfred Allmers’ marriage for a long time and the Rat Wife knows it.
In Ibsen’s 1894 play, it isn’t furry vermin that are causing the problems, but the old hag with her Pied Piper-like talent senses that she still has a service to offer in the home this well-off couple share with their crippled nine year old son Eyolf.
Hot on the heels of the announcement that her own marriage to director Trevor Nunn is over, Imogen Stubbs embraces the role of the desperately possessive Rita who feels her husband slipping away from her and is desperate to revive his former passion.
She displays a febrile intensity which, with the advent of tragedy, is transformed into a heart-wrenching grief and, finally, a sad acceptance of what the future might hold.
Jonathan Cullen is equally affecting as Alfred, whose guilt over the circumstances of the accident which caused Eyolf’s disability has made him withdraw, first into his writing and now into new (but swiftly thwarted) plans to devote himself completely to the boy’s education.
And then there are the complicated feelings he harbours towards his half-sister Asta who is being wooed by a visiting road engineer.
Simply staged but powerfully acted, Anthony Biggs’ absorbing production draws you irresistibly into the troubled emotions of the Allmers’ unhappy world.
It deserves to be another success for this tiny theatre and, with a cast of this strength, might well provide them with a transfer to a larger venue.
Jermyn Street Theatre, SW1Y 6ST
Tube: Piccadilly Circus
Ph: 020 7287 2875
Till 28th May
– Louise Kingsley