11 April 2015

Intimate and engaging performance of The Feast at Solhaug at Baron's Court Theatre

I am still not a great Ibsen fan but I appreciate that there is something there, especially after trying Ghosts three times in a year, and so an Ibsen play was always going to catch my attention, even if I then did not go to see the show after all.

The Feast at Solhaug had a lot more going for it that just Ibsen's name; it had never been performed in English before and was on at Baron's Court Theatre which I had not been to before despite it being so close. And it was only £14 which is ridiculously cheap for any theatre.

I had changed trains at Baron's Court many times before but had never explored the area before so I took the opportunity to do so, combined with looking for somewhere to eat. The area around the theatre was full of mansion blocks, much like Kennsington but not quite as posh. Wandering around I came across Queen's Club, famous for its pre-Wimbledon tournament, which I did not know was in the area.

The quest for food did not go that well and I ended up back at Curtains Up, the imaginative name from the pub above the theatre. It was Boat Race day but that means nothing to me so I had not factored it into my calculations. This was something of a mistake as a few hours after the event the pub was still packed and the tables were covered with the evidence of a good time being had by all. Luckily I was able to find a table and to get some food. And a beer.

The theatre was downstairs and it was not obvious where we were meant to queue, or if we were even meant to queue. I checked every few minutes and panicked slightly when the queue appeared and immediately had about ten people in it. I joined them.

Once allowed inside I saw that the theatre was in the old beer cellar and nothing had been done to hide this. There was seating on three side but the best seats in front of the stage had gone by the time that I got in (the usual few people, many coats situation) so I went to the right of the stage where a front row seat was still available.

One of the early arrivals who claimed many seats was an annoying woman in a bright white dress. It was hard to take a decent picture of the stage with this white dress in constant motion so eventually I settled for this one with her in the top-right corner.

The Feast at Solhaug was very different from every other Ibsen play that I had seen in that it was a brash historical drama rather than a subtle contemporary one. It was more like William Shakespeare than Tennessee Williams.

The beer cellar suited the play well as it already looked medieval in style and was built from crude stone.

At the centre of the drama were a lord and lady celebrating their third wedding anniversary, though he was celebrating it more earnestly and vigorously than she was.

The an old flame from her past arrived and she rekindled her feelings for him but he fell for her younger sister, as did the king's sheriff who was chasing the flame for serious crimes committed against the king. This stew of passions and jealousies was stirred with alcohol until it boiled over messily, as it was always going to do.

The complexity of the relationships and the number of main characters meant that the ending was nicely unpredictable. Some people died, some had other bad things happen to them and one couple managed to live happily ever after. I've found other Ibsen plays to end weakly and unrealistically but that was most definitely the case here.

The acting was good throughout and the intimate setting helped us to feel the deep emotions that the characters were wrestling with. The actor who made the most impact on me was Lucy Pickles as Margit, Lady of Solhaug, and that was probably because she had the more difficult decisions to make, spent more time on stage and was rather pleasing on the eye.

The Feast at Solhaug was a lovely play neatly presented, and it helped that it was below a reasonable pub not that far from home. All in all it was a very pleasant evening.

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