Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Theatre: John Gabriel Borkman

With the Fringe Festival and Ulster Bank Dublin Theatre Festival over some of you are probably either slumped in a corner from exhaustion or starting to get jitters as you go Cold Turkey on theatre. The good news is that two of the plays that were part of the UBDTF are still running in the Abbey Theatre: the very enjoyable B for Baby and John Gabriel Borkman.

Borkman was originally written in the late 1800s by the Norwegian dramatist Henrik Ibsen. (The version in the Abbey is by Frank McGuinness.) It's the story of a corrupt banker who has been ruined for stealing from his clients. Despite the massive changes in the world - in this case, the world of finance - since then, the story needs no social or technical explanations to be understandable. This is in contrast to Enron (recently shown in the Gaiety), which has far more financial technicalities to explain. Borkman manages to be far more contemporary than Enron despite being more than a century older.

This simplicity allows the audience to focus on the story and, most of all, on the character of John Gabriel Borkman as played by Alan Rickman. Borkman's personality - his attitude towards himself and others, his thoughts on his past - are the heart of the play and (to me) felt credible. Cathy Belton also deserves praise, adding a touch of warmth, humour and seductive charm to an otherwise very frosty play.

Having said that, all the star performers and beautiful set changes don't overcome the rather serious problem of a definite lack of pace. It's hard to feel excited or gripped by a play that moves this slowly. The first act in particular is just too long; almost tedious.

This is a good production, and worth seeing, but if you're looking for a fun night out I'd suggest B for Baby instead, also on in the Abbey.

John Gabriel Borkman is on in the Abbey until 20th November 2010.

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