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Review: A Doll's House
|Culture||Sun, 13 May 2012||Tweet|
A Doll’s House tells the tale of the seemingly light-hearted housewife, Nora, who appears to be perfectly happy playing the child in her relationship with her husband Torvald. However the plot unravels and reveals a secret that Nora has kept for many years, and grown much troubled by.
Ibsen’s Nora is a challenging but rewarding part to play in that it requires actresses to flaunt both their ability to charm audiences as well move them. Although Emily Ayles is clearly a very talented actress, I’m not sure I agreed one hundred per cent with her steady, naturalistic approach to Nora, a role which I feel is extremely volatile. Ayles slightly underplayed both the charisma and the inner torment of Nora. Perhaps more sensitive direction and a little more energy could have gone into her performance.
The other thing I felt was that there was some chemistry lacking between the spouses. This was important in showing that there is a relationship at stake and something valuable that is at risk of being lost. After all, Nora leaves not because she isn’t attracted to Torvald anymore, or because he is in any way bad to her. She leaves to pursue a life of independence, which society has never allowed her to experience before. She leaves despite her past love for him, not because it never existed. I didn’t feel that the Helmers of this production had at any point in their relationship been too fond of one another, although their last scene together was moving and brought out the best in both actors.
One last criticism was the set. It was slightly cramped, a bit like a literal doll’s house although I don’t think this was the intention. A piano does feature in the original text, but as it was never used in this production, I didn’t really see the need for it. When dealing with a space as limited as the Barron’s, it doesn’t really make sense to clutter the set with unnecessary furniture. The window - a constant reminder of the scary Norwegian outdoors beyond the comforts of Nora’s married life - was cut.
The costumes however were great. I was especially fond of how Mrs Linde’s frumpy, mismatched, grey and brown outfit turned into a baby pink skirt with a still frumpy but very endearing cardigan in the third act. It nicely mirrored Mrs Linde’s emotional journey from her world-weariness to her first stirrings of hope, which Beth Robertson conveyed well. Also Torvald’s removing Nora’s pearls in the last scene seemed to aptly embody both his admiration of Nora’s beauty and his subsequent possessiveness over it.
The comedy of the piece was also well-communicated. In a strange way it was refreshing to see how outdated the play has become for modern audiences, which was seen in their response of laughter to Torvald’s line “You’re just a woman, you’re defenceless”. Ibsen probably hadn’t intended it to be comical but genuinely reflective of a nineteenth century societal view. David Patterson had fun portraying Torvald’s snobby disregard for the other characters, totally ignoring Rank, drunkenly calling Mrs Linde “Mrs Lindonstrausse” and practically shoving her out of the door. Torvald’s self-righteousness was also shown in Patterson’s capacity to make himself visibly bigger by means of puffing up his chest whenever Nora purposely tickled his ego. Most of the humour was generated by Hamish Hawk as Dr Rank. Hawk’s wit was dry and his movements on stage were innovative, sneakily hiding an unwanted merangue and swearing that Torvald won’t be able to get past him, whilst plodding off-stage, walking-stick in hand, at a snail’s pace.
Krogstad is a difficult role to play as there is always the temptation to take the all-out stage villain approach, which Graham Richardson carefully avoided. He was sarcastic, patronising, with bouts of deeply unpleasant laughter. But his nastiness was not so dark that it prevented audiences from believing his transformation into spurned lover in his later scene with Mrs Linde. This scene was so lovely that it almost overshadowed the romance of the main couple, which is I suppose what it’s intended to do.
Although a very enjoyable production, I couldn’t help thinking that with a touch more direction and character development, it could have been brilliant.
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