Academic journal article Ibsen News and Comment

The English Premiere of the Feast at Solhaug

Academic journal article Ibsen News and Comment

The English Premiere of the Feast at Solhaug

Article excerpt

Ottisdotter Productions

Barons Court Theatre, London, April, 2015

The Feast at Solhaug, a verse drama typical of Ibsen's early period in its reliance its reliance on traditional, damnably complex plots, has been waiting since its 1856 production in Bergen, Ibsen's first public success, for a production in English. It was the only Ibsen play in such a position. That this has now been remedied perhaps speaks to the enterprising spirit of the company, Ottisdotter Productions, that gave it a three-week run at the appropriately named "Barons Court Theatre," except that the place is less grand than its name because it is located in the cellar of "The Curtains Up" pub just west of London's West Kensington tube stop. As the advertising sums it up: "The drama charts the story of Margit, Lady of Solhaug, who is awaiting her anniversary feast when an unexpected visitor brings forth memories of her lost youth. Suffocating in the gilded Solhaug, Margit plots a dramatic, desperate escape from the prison of her life." Since the beautiful Margit is only twenty-two, just three years married and still childless, there's not much youth to have been lost, but as she looks for a way out of her marital dissatisfaction, she is reminded by the sudden appearance of her cousin, Gudmund Alfson, that in her younger days he was a compelling presence, and she begins to imagine him as a far more heroic and desirable man than the older Sir Bengt, whom she married for money and social position and whom she has come to despise. That what Margit really despises is her own sell out, which she has projected onto her husband, is not much considered. The unexpected visit from the heroic Gudmund, now presenting himself as an "outlaw" (and thus even more romantic a figure) seems a kind of wish-fulfillment for Margit, who begins drawing invidious comparisons between her husband and the man she'd prefer, building a bubble of romance that is bound to pop. Bengt's directive to her to meet him later in the bed chamber (ahem) is the turning point for Margit, who now thinks poisonous thoughts about her husband, a poison soon to become more literal. How literal? Well, follow the poison that is most of the plot. It seems that Gudmund, "outlawed" after fulfilling a task for the King, was misrepresented by the Chancellor who accompanied him as a treasonous subject bent on poisoning the King, when in fact it was the Chancellor who so plotted. This is why Gudmund is on the run and why he has brought with him a vial of poison the Chancellor had accidentally dropped to use on himself if the King's men should corner him. This literal vial of poison coincidentally fits the poisonous state of mind Margit has arrived at. She persuades Gudmund to give it to her so that she can dispose of it, but instead she puts it in a goblet intended for Bengt, which he avoids when called elsewhere. The goblet is thus left for the next person to come along, which just happens to be Signe, whom Gudmund loves, and Gudmund. A horrified Margit intervenes as she thinks Signe is about to drink it, although almost simultaneously Gudmund pours it out for his own reasons. All that's left is for Margit to get rid of the poison in her mind and to reconcile with her fate (which is more to her liking than she at first knows or lets on, inasmuch as she has been widowed by the death of Bengt, slain by the King's Sheriff by mistake). Reconciliations of numerous sorts are facilitated by the usual miraculous denouement so popular in the world of Scribe. When the King discovers his error in attributing the poisoning plot to Gudmund instead of the Chancellor, he not only has the latter beheaded but overwhelms Gudmund with a rectifying generosity, which makes possible the wedding desired by Gudmund and Signe. Margit ends the play by bowing to the heavenly justice she thinks this represents and looks forward to an austere contempt of riches and social position, but the fact that she likely will inherit Bengt's considerable estate makes you wonder how long that state of mind will last. …

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