Wife, Kiln Theatre, Review

PUBLISHED: 15:19 07 June 2019

Wife by Samuel Adamson

Wife by Samuel Adamson


Samuel Adamson’s riff on Ibsen’s A Doll’s House collides decades of queer history with an exuberant look at the institution of marriage

The Kiln is enjoying a good run of bracing work in this latest season, which continues with Samuel Adamson's queer riff on A Doll's House.

It's a dizzying burst of ideas, belly laughs, melodrama, pin sharp observation, mouthing off fury, and the odd telling moment of quiet intensity.

In 1959, a closeted young wife has an affair with an actress playing Nora in Ibsen's classic play - then reluctantly chooses to remain with her repressive, bullying husband.

The ripples of that choice to stifle her identity are felt down the ensuing decades. In 1988, her gay activist son Ivar takes his younger lover Eric to a performance art production in Norwegian - then taunts him to come out as they sit in a straight pub mocking the 'breeder's' obsession with marriage.

Thirty years on, and it's a gender switched car crash of a production in a Kilburn fringe theatre.

Ivar is conventionally married to the monstrously self-regarding Cas, who is blithely ignorant of his hard-won self-expression.

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Eric has encountered homophobic violence, and his daughter Clare - engaged to the vapid metrosexual Finn - wants answers.

Four post-performance arguments collide with intensely personal themes that spotlight marginalised relationship through the ages and, like Nora, question how hard it is to find equality and self expression in marriage.

Why in our age of same sex equality do gay couples want to embrace this religious and patriarchal institution?

Adamson suggests it springs from a basic human need - although by presenting us with only deeply unhappy marriages - proposes that they fatally smother individuality.

Along the way he takes enjoyable pot shots at theatrical pretention, even as the stage is shown as both a safe space for outsiders and somewhere to vicariously experience transgressive acts.

There's also a plea not to forget the recent struggles of queer history, and some zinging feminist ripostes for those of us who find the word Wife a dagger to the heart.

Director Indhu Rubasingham goes full tilt at the play's sometimes foul-mouthed ebullience, powering through some tonal gear shifts and caricatured characters with chutzpah - and although sometimes you may wish for more restraint, she makes the emotional scenes count.

Sirien Saba is enjoyable as the various manifestations of convention-bucking actress Suzannah, Calam Lynch is affecting as the young conflicted Eric, and Karen Fishwick skillfully manages three very different versions of womanhood including a more hopeful future.


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