REVIEW: John Gabriel Borkman Donmar Warehouse, Covent Garden

Two star rating Ibsen s penultimate offering is as difficult as its protagonist. It starts in a drawing room and ends in the woods with a lot of angry accusations in between – and not a lot of compassi

John Gabriel Borkman

Donmar Warehouse, Covent Garden

Two star rating

Ibsen's penultimate offering is as difficult as its protagonist. It starts in a drawing room and ends in the woods with a lot of angry accusations in between - and not a lot of compassion. The trick is to bring out the bathos and charm of the play's enigmatic namesake.


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John Gabriel Borkman was once a king of commerce and is, in essence, a visionary. He may have holed himself up following years of imprisonment for embezzlement, but two women still want him - Ella, the true love he traded for the chance of success, and her twin, Gunhild, the wife who gave him a son.

And there is something about him that makes even the young pianist Frida look to him for artistic approval, as does her father Vilhelm, despite losing everything through Borkman's crimes.

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How unfortunate then that Ian McDiarmid has been cast so against type. His performance is somewhere between Prospero and Hamlet, all self-loathing, bitterness and introspection. There's no avoiding Borkman's ego, something David Eldridge's version points up wittily, but there should also be the sense of a winning passion.

It doesn't help that Eldridge gives his characters so little to actually do. Confrontation after confrontation grows wearing in the absence of any real dramatisation of these characters' predicament.

It is Penelope Wilton's Ella who comes closest to winning our hearts. However outdated in this age of personal responsibility, her claim that Borkman destroyed her ability to love almost rings true. What a shame that her talents, just as with the rest of the creative team, somehow end up squandered.

Until April 14.

Helena Thompson

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