Review Round Up: John Gabriel Borkman, Bridge Theatre

We take a closer look at what critics have had to say about this revival of Henrik Ibsen’s play, now officially open at the Bridge Theatre.

(c)Manuel Harlan

Broadway World: *** “It’s essential viewing for the Ibsen fanatics and it definitely has a few exceptional performances in it, but, all in all, this production doesn’t add much to the current theatrical landscape.”

WhatsOnStage: **** “The intensity of Hytner’s production, powered by Simon Russell Beale as Borkman, Clare Higgins as his wife Gunhild and Lia Williams as her sister and his lost love Ella, means that the resonances of the writing, the way that Borkman has “traded” love for his dream, the imagery of wealth and loss, gleam as strongly as the riches Borkman imagines mining.”

The Guardian: *** “What holds it together is its powerhouse performances from Clare Higgins, Lia Williams and most magnetically of all, Simon Russell Beale as the former banker who has been stripped of all his wealth and power. Having served a jail term for “banking crimes” he lives with his estranged wife, Gunhild (Higgins), and spends his days dreaming of a comeback.”

Evening Standard: ** “The three central performances are focused and intense, but each ends exactly where it started. It’s not the three stars’ fault this doesn’t land right. All Ibsen productions need to be absolutely pitch perfect if they are not to seem mordant and overwrought, especially those of the more obscure plays. Here a new but stilted translation by Lucinda Coxon, and a groovily brutalist 20th-century interior by Anna Fleischle, fail to leaven the 19th-century gloom.”

The Times: ** “His John Gabriel Borkman is another larger-than-life figure pursuing an all-consuming dream but Ibsen’s creation is cut from very different cloth. This egomaniac, who has sacrificed his wife and family to his financial ambitions, has next to no redeeming features.”

(c) Manuel Harlan

Time Out: **** “It’s an eccentric play, and undeniably less ‘important’ feeling than Ibsen’s prodigious greatest hits. But it has a whipsmart humour and wonderful momentum to it: a depiction of frozen lives finally experiencing one last calamitous thaw before the end of their days. Hytner directs fluidly and kinetically, and the lack of an interval is a smart idea to keep the pace up and stop it from getting too cosy.”

There Ought to be Clowns: “The play – presented here in a new version by Lucinda Coxon – is exceptionally grim, the direction is relentlessly traditional and the staging is clinically distant. If it didn’t have the experience and expertise of this powerhouse trio of actors at its heart, it would have been too punishing for words but because it does, it just about gets away with it.”

The Arts Desk: *** “Lucinda Coxon’s adaptation, directed by Nicholas Hytner, makes for an uneven evening, containing some airless longueurs and stilted exposition, but also moments of entertainingly twisted and explosive emotion. It works, for the most part, because of its trio of central performances, which build in intensity, lending an appropriate tragicomedy to Borkman’s fate.”

The Telegraph: *** “The Bridge Theatre’s staging of this play about the aftermath of self-inflicted monetary disaster should feel bracingly topical, and yet…”

The Stage: *** “This update of Ibsen’s drama about a disgraced banker is more conventional than it is revitalising.”

John Gabriel Borkman will continue to play at the Bridge Theatre until the 26th November.

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