REVIEW: ‘Rosmersholm’, Starring Tom Burke (‘Strike’) & Hayley Atwell

May 26, 2019

Posted by: Emma Pocock

Burke, Cormoran Strike series/Robert Galbraith, Cormoran Strike TV Series, News, Review, Theater, West End

Many of our readers will also follow J.K. Rowling’s other works outside of the Wizarding World, the most successful of which has arguably been her Cormoran Strike series, an ongoing detective/crime fiction series of novels published under the pseudonym Robert Galbraith. The BBC adapted the series for TV, starring Tom Burke and Holliday Grainger, the next season of which will adapt Lethal White, the fourth novel in the series published by Rowling just last year. Tom Burke is currently starring in Rosmersholm, a West End play based on a political classic by Henrik Ibsen, and Lethal White fans should know that it’s a play J.K. Rowling is well acquainted with!

Leaky was recently offered the chance to see Rosmersholm at Duke of York’s theatre in London, and it certainly didn’t disappoint. The performance, based on Ibsen’s 1886 play, was adapted by Ian Rickson, and brought to life by the Strike series’s Cormoran Strike, Tom Burke, and Agent Carter‘s Hayley Atwell.


Photograph: Johan Persson

The play tells the story of a traditional town in the middle of an election. Burke portrays John Rosmer, a rich ex-clergyman at odds with his faith and weighed down by the discomfort he feels in inheriting the great house of Rosmersholm. The townspeople look to him as a prominent figure, and all eyes are on him to deliver his verdict on the current political unrest. Dr Kroll, brother to Rosmer’s late wife, Beate, hopes to gain Rosmer’s approval in the election, and put an end to the rise of what he calls ‘radical’ liberal ideas in the town of equality of social status, thus Rosmer finds himself in a precarious position. Beate’s suicide sparked a change in Rosmer’s political leanings, encouraged by his friend, Rebecca, who pushes Rosmer to embrace the idea that the wealth he has inherited is a product of a faulty system, making him no more noble than the servants he commands and the townspeople he lords over.

On the verge of a new era, the stage reflects a sense of political unrest and the dramatic inner politics of the house of Rosmersholm. It’s a surprisingly modern play — Rosmer, Rebecca and Kroll are constantly at odds, arguing about the “vengeful, spoilt men” who continued the line of inheritance leading to John Rosmer. Rebecca’s voice is constantly questioned through the play — as a woman she couldn’t vote in the town’s election, and Kroll belittles her opinions and her devotion to The Lighthouse liberal newspaper by pointing out the insignificance of her opinions as a woman. Rosmer, however, deliberates with Rebecca at length, and we see traditions questioned and the future attempt to make its ways through the dark windows of Rosmersholm.

Rickson’s take surrounds the audience in the foreboding presence of death and the disapproving glares of ancestors surround the stage, evoking the haunting figure, the ‘white horse of Rosmersholm’, said to have appeared just prior to the suicide of Beate. The windows to the side of the stage help curate the tense atmosphere inside Romsersholm, and evoke a sense of a new world on the horizon. Neil Austin (lighting designer on Rosmersholm and Harry Potter and the Cursed Child) already has several Tony and Olivier awards to his name, but this deserves to deliver another — subtle candlelight and soft, orange hues coming through the windows mimic natural light perfectly, contrasting perfectly the inner and outer worlds of  Rosmersholm and foreshadowing the storm to come.


Photograph: Johan Persson

It’s Tom Burke and Hayley Atwell’s chemistry that makes the play a sure success. Burke’s brooding, troubled Rosmer echoes Burke’s performance as Strike in a way I hadn’t expected – he’s constantly trying to escape himself, and Atwell’s ferocity and passionate performance as Rebecca pushes him on with her ideals of what the future should look like. It’s an interesting and fresh dynamic, and Atwell completely runs the show — as, indeed, Rebecca should in this play. The two find themselves in a dark, secluded narrative challenged by the excellent performance of Giles Terera (also seen in Hamilton on the West End) as Kroll, who brings out the best and worst in John and Rebecca with his demanding, divisive presence as a staunch conservative.

Fans of the Cormoran Strike series will be interested, too, in seeing the show that appears throughout Lethal White. J.K. Rowling (or Robert Galbraith) quotes the play throughout the novel. The white horse mottos, the tense questioning of guilt and motivation and a female figuring urging the male protagonist to look beyond his status are all familiar to Burke — it will be interesting to compare his performance in Rosmersholm to his take on Lethal White, when the fourth book is eventually adapted for screen! John Granger suggested that fans of J.K. Rowling should read Rosmersholm in December last year, and it’s interesting that Tom Burke should take up this role alongside his role in the Strike series. I’d thoroughly recommend reading John’s piece here if you’ve already read Lethal White!


Photograph: Johan Persson

Overall, the play was a beautiful, captivating and refreshed portrayal of a timeless political drama. Those who enjoyed the Cormoran Strike series (whether by page or screen) should absolutely make the trip to the Duke of York’s to see Burke in the play.

Tickets are on sale at the Duke of York website until July 20th. Let us know if you’ve seen the play!

The Leaky Cauldron is not associated with J.K. Rowling, Warner Bros., or any of the individuals or companies associated with producing and publishing Harry Potter books and films.