The Lady from the Sea, Royal Exchange Theatre, Manchester

3.00

A sensitive take on a stormy tale

It can't be easy for Neve McIntosh playing the elusive Ellida Wangel in Ibsen's The Lady from the Sea.

Vanessa Redgrave – remembered as much for being wrapped in a white towel as for her darkly mellifluous voice – made the role of the amphibious heroine very much her own at the Royal Exchange, as well as at the Roundhouse in the late 1970s. Hard then to avoid comparisons – not so much in terms of exactly how this difficult part is interpreted by McIntosh, but as to whether or not she captures the mesmerising magic of "the lady from the sea".

With a lilting Scottish accent, her contained performance is pitched very differently from Redgrave's (and from that of Redgrave's late daughter, Natasha Richardson, who created a lost, lonely Ellida at the Almeida Theatre). McIntosh's modulated reading lacks something in texture, in its mystical dimension. Yet she's no fey creature of some weird and watery hallucination, but a woman submerged by bourgeois life and tormented by demons she encounters deep in her own consciousness. As she grows in the role, McIntosh will surely occupy it in a more hypnotic, visionary way.

The second wife of the thoroughly decent Dr Wangel (an assured performance by Reece Dinsdale), and uncomprehending step-mother to his two daughters, Ellida – who has herself lost a child – is trapped in a sexless marriage in a dull backwater. She believes herself possessed by the sailor-lover with piercing eyes who married them both to the sea before inconveniently disappearing. His return precipitates a crisis that forces her to find her voice (literally, since she's not always easy to hear) and thanks to the foresight of her husband – astonishing for the play's emergence in 1880 – a belief in herself. But when she's promised by Wangel that, "You shall have your freedom again, you shall live your own life", you can't help wondering whether or not Ellida really can swim free.

In an adaptation by David Eldridge every bit as poetic and absorbing as his versions of Ibsen's The Wild Duck and John Gabriel Borkman, Sarah Frankcom's sensitive, understated production allows the psychology of the relationships to unfold at its own unforced pace. The earnest, tubercular Lyngstrand (appealingly played by Samuel Collings) attracts sympathy until he proclaims that women can only find fulfilment by sacrificing themselves to their husbands' artistic objectives.

Wangel's daughters, Bolette and Hilde, are given contrasting, lively identities by Sara Vickers and Catrin Stewart respectively. The former is heartbreaking in her initial, horrified refusal to contemplate marrying her old tutor, Arnholm, before her quiet submission as she realises it is her only chance of escape, though at what dreadful price. As her somewhat creepy future husband, Jonathan Keeble exudes a dull worthiness lightened only by his character's unintentional mordant wit.

Liz Ascroft's naturalistic set is enhanced by scudding clouds and ripples in Chahine Yavroyan's lighting and Jack James's video projections of seascapes, landscapes and even, it seems, the swirling interior of Ellida's troubled mind.

To 6 November (0161 833 9833)

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Cara Delevingne modelling

film
Arts and Entertainment
Emma Thompson and Bryn Terfel are bringing Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street to the London Coliseum

theatre
Arts and Entertainment
Sheridan Smith as Cilla Black

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Robin Thicke's video for 'Blurred Lines' has been criticised for condoning rape

Robin Thicke admits he didn't write 'Blurred Lines'

music
Arts and Entertainment
While many films were released, few managed to match the success of James Bond blockbuster 'Skyfall'

film
Arts and Entertainment
Matt Damon as Jason Bourne in The Bourne Ultimatum (2007)

film
Arts and Entertainment
Sheridan Smith as Cilla Black

Review: Cilla, ITV TV
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Tom Hardy stars with Cillian Murphy in Peaky Blinders II

TV
Arts and Entertainment

art
Arts and Entertainment
Keira Knightley and Benedict Cumberbatch star in the Alan Turing biopic The Imitation Game

film
Arts and Entertainment
Kanye West is on his 'Yeezus' tour at the moment

Music
Arts and Entertainment
Rob James-Collier, who plays under-butler Thomas Barrow, admitted to suffering sleepless nights over the Series 5 script

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Bradley Cooper and Jennifer Lawrence star in new film 'Serena'

film
Arts and Entertainment
Some might argue that a fleeting moment in the actor’s scintillating, silver-tongued company is worth every penny.

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Colin Firth stars as master magician Stanley Crawford in Woody Allen's 'Magic in the Moonlight'

film
Arts and Entertainment
U2 have released Songs of Innocence in partnership with Apple

musicBand have offered new record for free on iTunes
Arts and Entertainment
Brad Pitt stars in David Ayer's World War II drama Fury

film
Arts and Entertainment
Top hat: Pharrell Williams

music
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

    A shot in the dark

    Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
    His life, the universe and everything

    His life, the universe and everything

    New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
    Save us from small screen superheroes

    Save us from small screen superheroes

    Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
    Reach for the skies

    Reach for the skies

    From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
    These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

    12 best hotel spas in the UK

    Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments
    These Iranian-controlled Shia militias used to specialise in killing American soldiers. Now they are fighting Isis, backed up by US airstrikes

    Widespread fear of Isis is producing strange bedfellows

    Iranian-controlled Shia militias that used to kill American soldiers are now fighting Isis, helped by US airstrikes
    Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

    Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

    Shoppers don't come to Topshop for the unique
    How to make a Lego masterpiece

    How to make a Lego masterpiece

    Toy breaks out of the nursery and heads for the gallery
    Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

    Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

    Urbanites are cursed with an acronym pointing to Employed but No Disposable Income or Savings
    Paisley’s decision to make peace with IRA enemies might remind the Arabs of Sadat

    Ian Paisley’s decision to make peace with his IRA enemies

    His Save Ulster from Sodomy campaign would surely have been supported by many a Sunni imam
    'She was a singer, a superstar, an addict, but to me, her mother, she is simply Amy'

    'She was a singer, a superstar, an addict, but to me, her mother, she is simply Amy'

    Exclusive extract from Janis Winehouse's poignant new memoir
    Is this the role to win Cumberbatch an Oscar?

    Is this the role to win Cumberbatch an Oscar?

    The Imitation Game, film review
    England and Roy Hodgson take a joint step towards redemption in Basel

    England and Hodgson take a joint step towards redemption

    Welbeck double puts England on the road to Euro 2016
    Relatives fight over Vivian Maier’s rare photos

    Relatives fight over Vivian Maier’s rare photos

    Pictures removed from public view as courts decide ownership
    ‘Fashion has to be fun. It’s a big business, not a cure for cancer’

    ‘Fashion has to be fun. It’s a big business, not a cure for cancer’

    Donatella Versace at New York Fashion Week