Review: Lydia Leonard Makes A Big Impact In Little Eyolf

Little Eyolf, Almeida Theatre ★★★★☆

By Savannah Whaley Last edited 29 months ago
Review: Lydia Leonard Makes A Big Impact In Little Eyolf Little Eyolf, Almeida Theatre 4
Jolyon Coy and Lydia Leonard star in Little Eyolf. Photo by Hugo Glendinning

A fitting follow-on from the Almeida’s Greek Season, Ibsen’s Little Eyolf, adapted and directed by Richard Eyre, explores tragedy with a similarly unforgiving intensity as the three plays staged at the theatre earlier this year.

Rita and Alfred Allmers’s marriage strains further after tragedy befalls them, and Alfred’s close relationship with his sister Asta becomes an increasing point of contention between the husband and wife. Lydia Leonard as Rita is unforgettable. Rita’s character is a complex one, and not altogether likeable, and yet Leonard vividly captures the conflicted desperation of a woman who does not want to be reduced to her role as mother, while portraying the grief of losing this role with a brutal and moving honesty.

Rita is honest, difficult, and sexy, and her character – and Leonard’s performance – stand out amongst a set of characters that are interesting but somehow feel less authentic. That said, Eileen Walsh, playing an almost-cameo role as a grimy old rat-catcher, also deserves mention, as a witty and enigmatic interruption in a world that in contrast to her feels strained and artificial.

The beautiful, sparse design of this production provides a powerfully bare backdrop against which the dynamics of family and love can play out. The setting, of a white wooden veranda looking out over Nordic mountains, is breathtaking. Eyre’s decision to set the play in one location, as opposed to Ibsen’s original three, frames and focuses attention on the shifting character dynamics and makes the whole thing feel more exposed.

In a play that obsesses over the strains and subtleties of a family that's falling apart, however, the lack of change in set and background reinforces a lack of change in action, and highlights the sense of time dragging in the last 20 minutes or so of the show. Still, Leonard isn't dull for a second.

Little Eyolf continues at The Almeida until 9 January 2016. Tickets £10 - £38. Londonist saw this production on a complimentary ticket.

Last Updated 01 December 2015