Simon Harris: Ibsen, a fearless, instinctive radical

October 19, 2017 by

Little Wolf is based on Little Eyolf which is a late work by the nineteenth century Norwegian playwright, Henrik Ibsen (1828-1906). Yes, there is the reality. A play you won’t have heard of (because it’s new) based on a play that you’ve also probably never heard of (because it’s old and Norwegian). The reality sits there as austere and as forbidding as a portrait of old mutton chops himself with his haughty gaze and his patriarchal bearing.

So why should you bother?

Well, beneath that buttoned up collar, lay the heart of a searching, fearless and instinctive radical who explored ideas – often despite himself – that were far ahead of their time. Aside from the fact that he set the gold standard for the new forms of theatre that were sweeping the world, his plays were powerful affirmations of how to live authentically and honestly, where equality, freedom and justice defy attempts to limit them, where men and particularly women are strong, driven and non-conformist, and where complex, riven and emotionally involving characters – like Peer Gynt, Hedda Gabler, Nora Helmer, Thomas Stockmann and Oswald Alving – are so powerfully drawn that they spill over from the plays that contain them and move out into the wider culture.

So, his characters are amazing.

I was surprised recently when someone asked me whether I thought audiences were ready for the kind of emotional punch that is attached to the play. Sheer entertainment is fine, but my sense is that audiences are also crying out for the opportunity to engage with and reflect on powerful, meaningful stories. It’s part of the drive behind the box-set generation and the success of long-form drama that audiences want the emotional engagement and depth that comes with complex characterisation and relevant stories. It’s one of the ways we think about our own lives – by referring to the fantasies, conflicts, needs and losses of others.

So, if you liked Dr Foster or The Bridge, you will love Little Wolf.

I came to Little Wolf through a thirty-year old memory. I didn’t know much about Ibsen and, accidentally, while I was flipping through channels at night, I came across a screening of A Play for Today on the BBC. It featured Anthony Hopkins and Diana Rigg as the married couple, Alfred and Rita Allmers, coming to terms with their faltering marriage and their shared sense of guilt about their disabled son. It was a gripping, intense and moving experience. It was only afterwards that I discovered it was called Little Eyolf.

When I was thinking about starting a new project, it came into my mind and I re-read it. It still had the psychologically complex characters that I remembered and a nail-biting intensity. That said, there were elements of nineteenth century drama – veering towards melodrama – that didn’t stand up well at all, as well as some difficult representational issues around the boy and the poor children that are offered sanctuary at the end. However, the raw power of the play, its bracing honesty and uncomfortable directness was compelling. Hopefully, our new version – set in the present and completely re-imagined as Little Wolf – will have retained some of that intensity, as well as bringing a fresh perspective and even sometimes a little laughter.


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Little Wolf is Lucid’s first theatre show, although I’ve been involved in making and directing theatre for over twenty years. As a producer and director, I’ve been involved in over forty productions, including work in London, Edinburgh and New York. I think it’s important to keep challenging the convention of how plays are presented and to keep exploring dramatic storytelling in relation to what is happening both in the artform and in the world now. As Peter Brook has said, our focus should be on “not Ibsen as an idea, an abstraction, but Ibsen, for us, today, now.”  In this version, our goal has been to find a way to do that.





CHAPTER 20–21+23–28 Oct 7.30pm 029 2030 4400



VOLCANO THEATRE 01–04 + 07–11 Nov 7.30pm   01792 464 790 02



THEATR BRYCHEINIOG Brecon 16 Nov 7.30pm & 17 Nov 2.00pm 01874 611 622



THE RIVERFRONT Newport 22 Nov 7.45pm

01633 656757



13 -
14 Nov 7.45pm 01352 701521



 24 – 25 Nov 7.30pm 01248 38 28 28



One performance at each venue on the tour will feature captions for d/Deaf and hard of hearing patrons.  Please contact the individual venues directly for Captioned Performance details.

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