Love’s Comedy, Orange Tree Theatre, Richmond, November 2012

When Ibsen was about 21 he fell in love with Clara Ebbell, an intelligent, spirited girl two years his junior, considered to be the town’s most brilliant young lady. A similar thing happens in this play to the poet Falk and his beloved Svanhild, one of two daughters in a house presided over by Mrs Halm. All the names mean something: Falk refers to the falcon, representing liberty, freedom and victory; Svanhild to a mythological Nordic princess trampled to death by her horses after choosing true love, and Halm refers to a fortified homestead.

Svanhild and Falk, all images Orange Tree/ Robert Day

This is a battle between young love and convention, with Mark Arends giving a razor sharp performance as Falk, ever ready to respond, dispute and pierce the protective skin of others. Can he win Sarah Winter’s dreamily perspicacious Svanhild, who very ably matches his words and mockery?

Julia Watson as Mrs Halm

In the meantime there are other couples to put life in perspective. Svanhild’s sister Anna, beautifully and simply played by Jessica Clark, and the young Lind who has a clear direction to his life … until it changes under pressure from Mrs Halm and others. Those others include Styver, a civil servant and coin of low value, well portrayed by Mark Oosterveen, along with his fiancée the bold, nosey and noisy Miss Jay whose pinched intensity was ably captured by Amy Neilson Smith. And Pastor Strawmand, very engagingly played by Stuart Fox with his mellifluous voice, yet this man of straw cannot stand up to Falk, who metaphorically knocks him over. Can anyone stand up to Falk? Well, there is the wealthy Mr.Guldstad, and one must see this early Ibsen play to find out how things resolve themselves in the second half.

It’s worth every minute of our attention in this riveting production by David Antrobus, aided by Katy Mills’ lovely costumes and powerfully evocative music by Dan Jones. This was complemented by the director’s extra music for lyrics by Don Carleton, who made the excellent translation.

Wonderful imagery in the first part as Falk sees Svanhild as the warm air that will lift the falcon to glorious heights, and she sees herself as a string holding the kite — but the string can always be cut. And in the second half, the pastor’s pleading speech to Falk to remove the boulder that he has suddenly placed in his path was beautifully delivered by Stuart Fox. These performances of an early and relatively unknown Ibsen play are not to be missed.

Performances continue until December 15 — for details click here.

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