13 Nov

By Henrik Ibsen
Upstairs at the Gatehouse
Bran Hands has done a really great job on this rather difficult play about a Bank Manager whose life has been destroyed by involving his clients in bad investments which resulted in him spending five years in prison. .He now lives in the top room of his house not wanting to spend time with Gunhild his cold hearted wife who is so deeply ashamed of the disgrace he has brought upon his name. Eight years he has spent on his own with occasional visits from a young girl Frida (Verity Stansall) who is studying the piano with him and her father, his great friend Vilhelm Foldall
Gunhild says that when he dies, she is going to build a memorial in his name and cover it and surround it with thick trees and quickly g rowing foliage so that his name can be obscured for ever. In the meantime she is busy teaching her son Erkhart to hate his father and to do something spectacularly successful to “restore the pride in the family name”’It seems unlikely as he spends most of his time at the house of a ‘playgirl’ Mrs Wilton played by Zara Banks.
Gunhild resents her unmarried sister, Ella Rentheim played by Judi Bowker. Ella has saved the family by her ownership of the Rentheim residence and keeping the family together while John Gabriel is incarcerated. She cares about the Borkmans, lavishing affection on Erkhart .
This is one of Ibsen’s later plays and though it is mostly written in his usual realistic style with his concern with realism as opposed to the romantic images of his earlier contemporaries, however, there is an unexpected hint of melodrama towards the end as Harry Meacher concludes his exceptional performance as the name character, a man who is eventually destroyed by his delusions.. The rest of it is a forest of words and they serve to build up the characters until we begin to feel related to their problems and their differences. A much needed humorous touch is provided by the scene between Meacher and Bryan Hands as Vilhelm A brilliantly timed duologue between actors who are comfortably accustomed to working together.
Another close relationship is that of Meacher and his wife Judi Bowker who plays Ella Rentheim , the ex-lover of John Gabriel who deserted her on his rise to power. Ella is full of love while the opposite is true of her sister. Gunhild played with a chip of ice in her heart by Kathryn Worth.
The direction is by Harry Meacher himself and Bryan Hands designs the setting. Their company Handplay productions are responsible for this presentation.
Ibsen’s plays are always wordy but riveting and this is no exception. Very much enjoyed.

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