When We Dead Awaken, The Space Arts Centre - Review

One of the last plays that Henrik Ibsen wrote, When We Dead Awaken is heavily laden with symbolism and not in the same oeuvre as his earlier works.

Sculptor Arnold Rubek attends a health spa with his wife Maia. While having a civil conversation with each other, they come to a similar conclusion – that the place they’re staying at is abnormally quiet and that deep down they’re disappointed about the way life’s turned out. Ever since Rubek’s success with a sculpture called ‘Resurrection’, his creativity has stagnated.

As if the universe has responded to his fate, Irina, the model who was his muse in his early career makes an appearance at the same spa with a companion. Drawn back to his muse, Rubek ends up spending more time with her, while Maia – not one to be neglected – takes up the offer of Ulfheim another spa resident, to venture up a mountain. Both parties reach the mountaintop, but the path to the summit is anything but smooth...

When We Dead Awaken is full of Ibsen’s ideas about the path to creativity and while I can appreciate it from that standpoint, what I found personally engaging was the performances of the actors as they navigated this intellectual minefield. In addition, Les Foules Theatre Company whose production this is, have taken the initial idea of ‘sleep’ and ‘death’ and run with them, creating an interesting aesthetic and incorporating scenes of physical theatre throughout the play.

The long translucent plastic drapes that hang from one side of the stage (which represents running water, a membrane-like wall and an assortment of other things) are very effective, and with a lot of imagination has been used with great versatility.

The opening of the play with the cast caked in chalk-white powder and awakening from their slumber, could possibly be inspired by Miss Haversham in Great Expectations or Guillermo Del Toro’s Cronos, while George Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four (“We Are The Dead”), August Strindberg’s Creditors and Stanislaw Lem's Solaris certainly feature in this production’s DNA.

As mentioned earlier, what makes this play are the actors’ performances and while everyone was interesting to watch, the emotional lynchpin is Ruby Thompson’s performance as Maia. It has to be said that Cameron Harle’s entrance as Lars is pretty special too, bringing a very welcome moment of levity!

Director Nathalie Adlam’s production doesn’t spoonfeed the answers to the audience, but there is never a dull moment, leaving plenty for one to ponder over.

© Michael Davis

When We Dead Awaken runs at The Space Arts Centre until 30th May 2015.

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