Writer: Henrik Ibsen
Adaptor: Bryony Lavery
Director: Greg Hersov
Reviewer: Jimmy Hardwick
When Ibsen’s A Doll’s House was first performed both its message and its denouement caused widespread shock and distress among critics and audiences. Indeed Ibsen bowed to intense pressure to write a more palatable ending for the German stage and much regretted that he had. Happily this new production of A Doll’s House, adapted by Bryony Lavery, is true to Ibsen’s original script and his original intention. Through the play we see Nora Helmer tormented by past mistakes and tormented by what these mistakes reveal to her.
The entire play takes place over three days within one apartment leading to a stifling and restrictive feeling for the audience. We can see the terrible pressure that is piled onto Nora but we are given no release valve. Ibsen wants us to feel this pressure and stress and the effect it has on an apparently conventional housewife.
Cush Jumbo is excellent as the centre of the play, Nora Helmer. She conceals Nora’s growing terror behind a girlish and exuberant veneer; all unpleasantness must be hidden until nothing can be hidden at all. It is in Nora’s growing dissatisfactions that Ibsen uses to show his belief that ‘a women cannot be herself in contemporary society’. Marriage, mortherhood, respectability and even religion can become merely masks. It is the growing realisation of these masks which so distresses Nora; she is not properly known and therefore not properly loved.
David Sturzaker plays Torvald Helmer as a man given to great kindness to his wife as well as great patronisation. Torvald fits well into a classic fictional mode, the apparently good and honourable man who does not make his wife as happy as he thinks he does. Torvald is indeed incredibly narcissistic and breathtakingly patronising but he is no monster. The main laughs from the audience came when Torvald said something shocking to modern sensibilities such as the inherent weakness of women or a husband’s duty to protect his wife from the world. Yet no one could fail to see he cares for his wife or that he just does not understand her at all in the final analysis.
Mrs Linde (Kelly Hotten), Dr Rank (Jamie De Courcey) and Krogstad (Jack Tarlton) are all, to a greater and lesser extent, causes and witnesses to this family tragedy. De Courcey in particular is brilliant as the strange Dr Rank, family friend and a greatly damaged man willing but sadly unable to help Nora in her terrible struggle. While to 21st century audiences the final scene may not be as shocking as it once was it is still powerful and challenging. Ibsen wanted us to question the rôles each of us have in society and to see human beings as they really are and Greg Hersov’s excellent production forces us all to do that.