Theatre Review: Frankly Genius


Title: John Gabriel Borkman

Director: James Macdonald


Cast: Alan Rickman,  Fiona Shaw, Lindsay Duncan.

Running until: November 20th in the Abbey Theatre

Tickets: €13-€40

The Abbey Theatre’s latest offering, John Gabriel Borkman, a play by Henrik Ibsen which has been translated by UCD Professor of Creative Writing Frank McGuinness, is truly a theatrical treat. With an all-star cast, including Alan Rickman and Fiona Shaw, it is hard to find fault with this production.

The story centres on disgraced banker John Gabriel Borkman, played by Rickman, and the ripples that are caused in his family upon the arrival of his wife’s (Fiona Shaw) estranged sister (Lindsay Duncan).

The three leads shine in their respective roles, but special mention must be given to Duncan. The star of Dr Who and Rome, who won plaudits for her performance in the celebrated That Face, shines with an icy glamour. Her cold exterior perfectly hides a pained interior and Duncan switches between the two flawlessly.

In contrast to Duncan’s icy calmness, Shaw plays her hysterical foil perfectly. The two steal each scene that they are in. Rickman too must be commended for his stoic portrayal of the disgraced Borkman, who remains impassive in the face of Shaw’s hysterics.

The play itself is incredibly engaging. Upon the interval, my companion and I could not believe that so much time had passed. The dialogue is both thought provoking and hilarious at times – the audience laughed out loud on several occasions. While the actors bring the words to life, McGuinness must be commended for his rich translation of the play.

Additionally, McGuinness’ characters are loveable despite their shortcomings. While the characters are not overtly good people, as an observer, you find yourself drawn into their lives and stories and finding yourself sympathetic to individuals you thought irritating and shallow at first.

The set design of John Gabriel Borkman is innovative and uses the impressive stage of the Abbey well. While transitions between the two floors of the house may seem overly elaborate in writing, the Abbey creates an easy transition. Similarly, interiors and exteriors remain separate but blend easily.

McGuinness must be commended for creating a unique version of this play. The story is pacy and engaging, while also being emotive. The actors fill their roles perfectly and the sets provide an interesting spectacle. This is a play that should not be missed by anyone who is even remotely interested in drama. It cements McGuinness’ reputation as a consummate translator of other playwright’s work, in addition to being one of the most important voices in Irish drama in recent memory.

– Bridget Fitzsimons