The Rep's main stage has been patchy to say the least in recent years, but this production of an Ibsen rarity is a stunning return to form, demonstrating what this theatre does best.
However, it's not hard to see why The Lady From the Sea is one of Ibsen's less frequently revived plays. Not only does its resolution feel glib, but its central metaphor takes a bit of swallowing.
Ellida is trapped in a joyless marriage to Dr Wangel, a man much older than herself. She is an island dweller who is distracted, almost to the point of madness, by her longing for the sea and memories of the dark mysterious sailor with whom she once had a brief but passionate affair.
She is the mermaid, lured to her death on dry land, whom the jobbing painter Ballested talks about at the beginning of the play.
At the centre of it is a further working-out of the problem of man-woman relationships in marriage more familiar from A Doll's House. But the context is a remarkably Chekhovian household of disappointed people stranded in a provincial resort, where soon the last steamer of summer will depart and the ice will close in.
These frustrated characters include the two stepdaughters with whom Ellida has never properly connected, Dr Wangel's associate Dr Arnholm and Lyngstrand, who dreams of becoming a sculptor but who is believed by the others to be dying. The rebellious younger daughter, Hilde, shock-ingly flirts with him because of this.
The mix, which interestingly includes an explicit discussion between Lyngstrand and the elder daughter, Boletta, about the supportive role of an artist's wife, makes this
one of those works which is at once flawed and fascinating.
And in this production directed by Lucy Bailey it has been treated with the most sophisticated theatrical craft. Mike Britton's impressive set is an elongated wooden box representing a verandah, surrounded by white flowers and water, while two scenes are played at an upper level, in effect on the roof of the box. It's an object lesson in how to stage a play which is itself breaking out of the box of naturalism.
It is also beautifully acted, with Claire Price able to bring such an immediate flesh-and-blood presence to Ellida that it becomes easier to suspend disbelief. Hannah Young and Amy McAllister are also outstanding as the two interesting younger women.
n Running time: Two hours, 40 minutes. Until March 29.