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FringeReview UK 2023

Lady Inger of Ostrat


Genre: Drama, Theatre

Venue: The Space, Isle Of Dogs


Low Down

An unknown early Ibsen comes to the lovely Space Theatre on Isle of Dogs


The various nation states that comprise today’s progressive Scandinavia have not always rubbed along in harmony and unity. For hundreds of years, Norway’s identity was suppressed by the Scandinavian and later Dano-Norwegian Unions, accompanied by empire building and self-interest reflective of the patchwork of European states of the time. Ibsen, very much the father of Norwegian literature, went so far as to describe this period as “Four Hundred Years of Darkness”. So, it is within this context that we view Lady Inger of Ostrat, one of Ibsen’s earliest works. It describes the political machinations surrounding the Norwegian nationalism of the era, seen through the vortex of the widowed Lady Inger (Kristin Duffy), one of Norway’s powerful land owners, but subject to Danish dominance. Inger is being lobbied to support a revolt by Swedish peasants, specifically against the wishes of the Danes ; Inger is aware of the fine margins of judgement surrounding this political calculation. And against this backdrop, there is family intrigue in the mix. The structure is all rather reminiscent of Shakespeare, Hamlet in particular, especially with its use of soliloquies.

The staging is delightfully simple and minimalist, consisting of a table, two chairs and a series of candle lamps, in the charming Space Theatre. The non-contiguous traverse setting both gives the cast a chance to breathe and lends the audience the feeling of bearing witness to seismic events. A very minor criticism is that when Inger is on the gantry above the audience, both towards the beginning and end of the work, those audience members directly below were blindsided.

The cast of six are all more than competent performers, well directed by Mark Ewbank, although Inger’s status in early exchanges was perhaps opaque. The ensemble did not quite hit the right pace, especially in the first act , where there was intermittently a sense that the actors needed more to push against, although we saw a shift with the arrival of Stensson (Joe Lewis). The piece, while filleted by Ottisdotter, remains a little ponderous and convoluted. The relationships were also stretched, with the notable exception of scene in which Elina (Juliet Ibberson) finds herself drawn to Lykke (Ivan Comisso), where there was genuine frisson.

This revival of Lady Inger Of Istrat supports the company’s stated intention of bringing into focus relatively unknown plays, coupled with examining the suppression of women in patriarchal societies. In that, Ottisdotter have definitely succeeded here. However, the writing feels like a stepping stone to Ibsen’s more celebrated works (e.g. Peer Gynt, A Doll’s House, Hedda Gabler), where the characters are perhaps more layered. Nonetheless, this was an extremely laudable performance and Ottisdotter are to be congratulated at such a bold and unusual choice of work.