Henrik Ibsen: A complete guide to his well-known plays
Born in Oslo on 20th March 1828, Henrik Ibsen was a Norwegian playwright who went on to become a leading dramatist of the 19th century. His plays including A Doll’s House, Hedda Gabler and The Wild Duck often tackle larger questions of morality and ethics, with each play focusing on larger issues in society. We take a look at plays written by Henrik Ibsen that have been performed recently in the West End.
Plays by Henrik Ibsen in the West End
A Doll’s House
Arguably one of Ibsen’s most famous works, A Doll’s House was last performed in the West End in 2013. The story follows a married couple, with everything seemingly perfect, especially for Nora. But, when everything she knows seems to crumble around her, Nora is shocked to discover how her life will change, especially with her husband Torvald. Jessica Chastain will star in a revival of A Doll’s House at the Playhouse Theatre in 2020, directed by Jamie Lloyd.
Written in 1886, Rosmersholm is one of the later works penned by Henrik Ibsen and is considered to be one of his greatest texts. Examining the importance of Christian ethics in society, audiences will meet the protagonist Johannes Rosmer, seen as a “good” man within the community he lives in. Yet Rosmer is still suffering from the sudden passing of his wife a year after her suicide, as the audience follow him navigating this painful loss. Even so, Rosmer has many decisions to make, choosing between future dreams and past hauntings in a play that analyses the importance of social and political change.
In this adaptation, the lead character was renamed to John Rosmer and was played by Tom Burke, also starring Hayley Atwell and Giles Terera.
Originally titled as Peer Gynt, David Hare’s latest adaptation of a Henrik Ibsen text will be Peter Gynt. Rather than being set in Norway, the adaptation will be relocated to Scotland starring James McArdle in the lead role. In the play, audiences will follow Peter as he travels on a worldwide adventure through mountains, desert and even coming face to face with mythical creatures. Hare’s adaptation will bring Peer Gynt to the 21st century, with the titular character heading back home to Scotland at the end of the story.
Winning three Olivier Awards in 2014 including best revival, best actress and best supporting actor, Ibsen’s Ghosts was most recently revived at the Almeida Theatre, with the production transferring to the Trafalgar Studios. Lesley Manville played the role of Helene, a woman who has recently become a widow. While she is aware of her husband’s suspicious behaviour while he was alive, Helene avoids the paternal questions that her son Oswald asks. As the story develops, it is clear the ghosts of Helene’s past will return to haunt her. This production of Ghosts was adapted by Richard Eyre, after Henrik Ibsen’s original text was written in 1881.
There have been two productions of Hedda Gabler in the West End in recent years. The story of Hedda Gabler’s life spiraling into disaster was performed in 2012, with Sheridan Smith taking on the eponymous role at the Donmar Warehouse. Four years after this, Ivo van Hove (All About Eve) made his National Theatre debut directing a production of Hedda Gabler, with Ruth Wilson delivering an Olivier Award-nominated performance in the title role.
The Lady from the Sea
Originally written in Danish, the Donmar Warehouse presented Elinor Cook’s English interpretation of The Lady from the Sea in 2017. Directed by Kwame Kwei-Armah, the production took the themes from the story and placed them in a 1950s Caribbean setting. Audiences meet Ellida, a young woman who feels locked into her marriage; all Ellida longs for is to be in the sea. Trying to break off an engagement when a former suitor comes into her life, Ellida must choose between future wishes and her present life in this emotionally charged play.
The Master Builder
Adapted for the stage by David Hare, the Henrik Ibsen play The Master Builder was last performed at the Old Vic in 2016. Ralph Fiennes played the role of Halvard Solness, an architect who dreams of building spires larger and higher than ever before, continually trying to surpass himself. When he meets Hilda in the country, Solness is pushed to do things he would never consider before, climbing to the top of his tower to make it clear that is the “master builder”. The Master Builder is intrinsically linked to The Lady from the Sea, as they both feature appearances from Hilda.
The Wild Duck
Audiences got to see a live duck on stage at The Wild Duck, performed at the Almeida Theatre in 2018. The 1884 play was adapted for a present-day retelling by Robert Icke, as audiences meet the animal-loving Ekdal family whose most prized possession is a wild duck. Questions boil to the surface as characters break the fourth wall to get away from what’s happening in their lives and rid themselves of potentially catastrophic situations. The production starred Kevin Harvey, Edward Hogg and Lyndsey Marshal.
St John’s Eve
Translated from Danish and Norwegian by James McFarlane, Anthony Biggs directed St John’s Night in 2012, performed at the Jermyn Street Theatre. Loosely based from William Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream, the play is set at a midsummer feast with elves dancing in the forest. Living in rural and urban settings clash throughout, with the younger characters finding themselves throughout the story.
Want to learn more about other playwrights? Read all about Harold Pinter whose works are being celebrated in the Pinter at the Pinter season. Or, how about Arthur Miller, with four of his plays revived in London in 2019.