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Judgement Day

Come up into the high mountains and Iíll show you all the kingdoms of the world!† — Arnold Rubek
Michael Pennington as Rubek and Pennie Downie as Irena
(Photo: Sheila Burnett)
When We Dead Awaken was Ibsenís last play before his death in 1906. Many see it as a last confession, or judgement upon his own life and works. It is not often performed, and has a reputation for impenetrable symbolism, but in this new adaptation by Mike Poulton, the language takes on a hypnotic rhythm worthy of his earlier verse dramas like Peer Gynt.

Judgement Day (as it is called in this version) is named after a masterpiece sculpture created by Arnold Rubek (Michael Pennington). Arnold is Ibsenís voice - an aging artist, still in love with his early work, but disillusioned with his recent efforts, and struggling to say something new. He has recently returned to his homeland of Norway (as had Ibsen), and hopes to find inspiration in the mountains and Arctic lakes with his young wife Maia (Sara Vickers).†

The blasting vitriol of the newly married couple is one of the highlights of this play; a full ten minutes or so of shockingly brutal verbal attacks on each other are both funny and sad in equal measure, but could only come from someone who is truly dissatisfied with their lot and angry at the world.†

Enter the rivals to split up the marriage. Baron Ulfheim, played with alluring and threatening sexuality by Philip Correia, is the antithesis of Arnold. He's a young, muscular hunter who has no appreciation of art and finds beauty in destruction. There is a sense that in creating the character of the virile Baron, as opposed the somewhat impotent Arnold, Ibsen is projecting a secret that a lot of artists would hide - their desire to be a physically passionate being in the present, rather than always channelling their energy into something to be sold or appreciated in a museum.

It is a ghost from the past, Irena de Satoff, who brings this home to Arnold, claiming that when he moulded her into clay, he stole her soul to make "their baby." But after discarding Irena many years ago, he has never been able to produce anything of worth again. Penny Downie is extraordinary as the wandering and ethereal lost love with eyes constantly searching for some meaning, head always twisting to look out for the spectral figure of a nun who is always watching her. She moves seamlessly from believing she is dead, to remembering a pleasant day on a lake, to full of rage with a dagger in her hand; itís a skilled trick which drags the plot from a stuttering start with a bored couple, right up to the frantic and climactic storm.†

Judgement is a pensive piece, musing on the nature of art, artistry and passion, but itís a also a ferociously angry and bitter tract from an acclaimed writer who wasnít sure if he got the praise he deserved. Director James Dacre brings out just the right amount of humour, and uses the small traverse stage as though it were always on a slight incline - heading somewhere better, or at least more alive.

To get you in the mood for some sculptural appreciation, visit the lovely little West London fringe venue early and climb the candlelit staircase to an exhibition of sculpture by Nick Turvey. Incarnate is inspired by bodies, physics and shampoo adverts (and is rather more brilliant than I just made it sound). Like the large rock that dominates Judgement Dayís design, it helps to ground the philosophical arguments about art, with the cold reality of who people are, and what they do.†


† †
Judgement Day Judgement Day
Written by Henrik Ibsen in a new version by Mike Poulton
Directed by James Dacre

Starring: Michael Pennington, Sara Vickers, Philip Correia, Penny Downie
With: Peter Symonds, Andrew Hanratty, Jane Thorne
Design: Mike Britton
Sound: Richard Hammarton
Lighting: Natasha Chivers
Running time: 1 hour 20 minutes without an interval
Box Office: 020 7221 6036†
Booking to 17th December 2011
Reviewed by Tim Macavoy†based on 21st November† 2011 performance at The Print Room, 34 Hereford Road, London W2 5AJ (Rail/Tube: Royal Oak/Notting Hill)†

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