TRCH Nov 19

The League of Youth

18 May 11 words: Victoria Oldham
A politician espousing liberal views abandons his principles at the first sniff of power

The League of Youth at Nottingham Playhouse

Andy Barrett has written the first English adaptation of Henrik Ibsen's political satire, The League of Youth and the production forms the vanguard of the forthcoming Nottingham European Arts and Theatre Festival, which officially opens on the 26th May. The adaptation is also available as a book, published by Nick Hern Books.

Political climber Stensgard, played by actor Sam Callis, comes to a small town after a briefly alluded to love-affair calamity in his last town, and finds himself in the middle of some political plotting. He is a likeable, odd character with a large puff of hair at the front of his head, which he casually tosses back occasionally as a woman would her long hair, creating a comedic atmosphere from the moment he steps on stage. Although he sometimes comes across in an almost Dr Who fashion, he plays the part of conviction-less political hopeful perfectly. Cast scattered throughout the audience respond to him, further enhancing the experience of being part of the play's world.

Nemesis Chamberlin Bratsburg, played by Philip Bretherton, is a genteel, upper class politician who doesn’t believe in getting his hands dirty, as that is for the peasantry, people without a good name or property, people who should know their place in life and stay there. He is simple and occasionally comes across as an easily bamboozled old man fighting the possibility of change that would take away his 'good name'.

It is Jon Rumney, playing character Daniel Heire, who steals the show. With a long list of theatre to his credit, he makes the audience laugh, makes them think, and generally calls attention to the ludicrous nature of politics while playing a man who just likes to stir the pot.

All of the actors did a fine job, creating the mood of 1800's life, easily capturing the complexity and transitional nature of politics. It is interesting that it is not Stensgard's politics which let him down, but his engagement to three different women at the same time, which makes him a laughing stock. For once it is a man who must marry well but cannot find a woman who fits the bill, and his life is made the worse for it.

It is also worth noting that the parts of Erik Bratsburg and Bastian Monsen are played by the same person, Chris Nayak, who does such a fine job, you don’t initially realise it is the same person. The same can be said for Selma Bratsburg and Ragna Monsen, played by actress Victoria Yates.

Overall, this is a wonderful adaptation. While the modern music, Fatboy Slim's Right Here, Right Now, is quite jarring and seemingly out of sync with a 19th century play, it is easily forgotten while enjoying the play itself. Also a bit odd is the use of modern clothing by the extras (one was in a modern business suit, another in casual linen trousers and t-shirt) which takes the audience slightly out of the play, but is also a reminder that the constantly changing world of politics yet remains the same throughout the centuries.

There is no question Andy Barrett has created a fine revisioning of Ibsen's League of Youth. He has clarified Norwegian politics while retaining the humor of the play. Even if you aren’t familiar with Ibsen's work, this play serves as a wonderful introduction.

The League of Youth runs at Nottingham Playhouse until Wednesday 1st June

Find all of our NEAT11 festival coverage here.

Read our interview with Andy Barrett.