Initially, the sheer number of characters we’re introduced to in the theatrical Ekdahl household seems overwhelming, but it isn’t long before the personality of each (and his or her position in this lively, early 20th century Uppsala household) becomes clear – from young Alexander’s ebullient Uncle Gustav (Jonathan Slinger) to the latest object of his extra-marital attentions. 

Dominated by plush red curtains, the set is bright and warm, the atmosphere vivacious – this is a family which, even if everything isn’t perfect,  knows how to enjoy what life has to offer – be it food or seasonal celebrations.

But Alexander, with his vivid imagination, is haunted by thoughts of death and visions of a scythe-wielding grim reaper – a fear that turns out to be justified when the untimely death of his father turns his and his younger sister Fanny’s lives upside down and his mother embarks on a what proves to be a disastrous second marriage, devoid of fun, drained of all colour (and far, far worse) with Kevin Doyle’s chillingly austere Bishop.

Running at well over three hours (including a couple of intervals), the pace of Max Webster’s atmospheric production rarely flags, thanks in no small measure to some excellent performances. Penelope Wilton is on fine form as Helena, the children’s concerned grandmother, once a leading actress and still very much the head of the family. And, as her white-haired, long-term Jewish lover Michael Pennington adds a touch of twinkle-eyed magic to a very enjoyable evening of striking contrasts.  

Old Vic, The Cut, SE1 8NB

Tube: Waterloo

Until 14th April 2018     

Tickets £12.00- £65.00 & Premium Tickets