This Ibsen play on the self imposed imprisonment of Borkman, after his embezzlement of funds, and the tussle of his wife Gunhild and her sister Ella over the affection and control of their son, Erhart, is played out in a grey concrete bunker. The tunneling of the deep stage, designed by Kathrin Nottrodt, tapers towards the alter that sleeps Borkman, who is not worshiped but certainly dominates the minds of everyone. This production by Karin Henkel extracts all the major themes from the otherwise static chamber piece and thrusts all the conflicts and desires into physical manifestations. The fight for Erhart bewteen Gunhild and Ella ranges from them competing to bath him to literally tugging on Erhart’s sleeves in order to keep him. Ella and Borkman relationship is spelled out in an extensive slapstick routine of seductive comic poses from the excellent Lina Beckmann, as she sashay down the steps to meet Borkman. Subtle it is not.
This heavy handed production meant all the themes are force fed to the audience and it can get a little bit much. There are additional themes such as the childhood feud between Ella and Gunhild brought to the fore as a prelude and Mrs Wilton portrayed as a great deal more malevolent than the original text. And playing Borkman lazying around in pajamas robs him of the essential characteristic of misplaced pride and dignity that makes Borkman who he is.
The production is certainly bold and the nightmarish setting and the grotesque visual and masks are striking. But it doesn’t add anything to play that is already plainly set out with well defined theme and exaggeration completely negates the manners and restraints that suppresses all these emotions. It may be interesting as an experiment, it is far less interesting as a coherent production of an Ibsen play.