Monday, 1 November 2010

The Lady From The Sea

One of the many delights of living in Manchester is being able to visit the Royal Exchange Theatre.

Over the years I have seen some tremendous performances - one that sticks in my memory is the world premiere of Ronald Harwood's "The Dresser", with Tom Courtenay in the leading role.

There have been many more, as well as a few not so memorable ones. This year I have been fortunate enough to see "1984" and Marlowe's "Dr Faustus".

I have never seen a production of Ibsen that I have not enjoyed, and "The Lady from the Sea" was no exception.

Full of humour, which we tend not to associate with Ibsen, it is nevertheless a powerful play which still resonates in our time. Ibsen's comments reproduced in the programme will stay with me: The Norwegians are under the domination of the sea and fjords make philosophers of us all.

He was a remarkable playwright, writing of course at a time of exceptional creativity in Norwegian history.

The Royal Exchange has a tendency to produce over elaborate and expensive sets which though technically admirable do not seem to me to be necessary or perhaps even appropriate for theatre in the round. Happily the set for this play was minimal: light was used to depict water. The last time it was played here I believe that the stage was flooded.

Last time also the lead role was played by Vanessa Redgrave - a hard act to follow. I liked Neve McIntosh's rendition of Ellida. Not all reviewers did. I agreed with the comment from one that her soft Scottish accent and celtic appearance help to give her that aura of an uncomfortable outsider.

Apart from performances at the theatre, the building alone is always worth a visit.

A board high up on the west side still displays the closing prices in Liverpool and New York, and is a reminder of its previous role as a cotton exchange which came to an end in the 1960's.

There have been a number of buildings on the site since 1729. The largest, built in the early twentieth century, was destroyed in the second world war. Its successor, built soon after after the war, was itself seriously damaged by the IRA bomb that exploded just outside in 1996. On this site Engels used to work as a trader in his father's business, smiling on bad days in anticipation of the demise of the capitalist system.

Set in the floor are small metal plaques that supporters of the theatre have purchased to commemorate deceased relatives. The most notable name is that of John Thaw, better known perhaps as Inspector Morse. Often I walk over one commemorating a lady with whom I shared an office when I first came to Manchester many years ago.

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