Sunday, 12 October 2014

A Doll's House - UK Touring Theatre

Hawthorne Theatre, Welwyn Garden City
11 October 2014, 7.30pm

It is always a relief to find something to counteract the banality of Saturday night TV that I am usually sucked into watching and this week I found it at the Hawthorne Theatre.

Ibsen's 1879 drama A Doll's House is always thought-provoking - a fascinating study of how women, marriage and motherhood are viewed by a male world and mixed with a dose of financial shenanigans and his stalwart theme, "the sins of the fathers", so I was hoping for the best.

Thankfully UK Touring Theatre's take on it is a good solid production of a classic play that manages to create a sense of suspense even though I knew exactly what was going to happen.

Set in 19th century Norway, Nora Helmer seemingly has everything she needs, three children, a loving husband Torvald and secure finances thanks to his promotion.

Torvald sees her as a pet, a possession who just has to look pretty and admire him, but she is harbouring a secret, which if revealed would blow her marriage apart.

The arrival of an unexpected visitor on Christmas Eve threatens to do just that.

It is credit to the four actors, directed by Michael Woodward, that as it moved towards the conclusion I know so well, they kept me enthralled, and I ended up still willing Nora on as I did the first time I saw it - hoping that she would still actually make the decision she does.

The company's own new translation with more modern language allows the production to roll along at a lively pace and I certainly felt like I was on a runaway train on an inevitable path to destruction.

Felicity Rhys's Nora is an appropriate mix of skittish, playful and frantic which makes her change to more serious, steely and measured when making her final decision all the more stark.

Laura-Kate Gordon is a fine solid Kristine Linde who depicts well how she has been worn down by her own situation which, while very different, is still a result of a male dominated world.

Adam Redmayne as Torvald, the symbol of 19th century male society, is appropriately unseeing and annoying, showing weakness under his pride, and I think the fact I wanted to slap him meant he probably got it right!

The doubling up of the Dr Rank and Nils Krogstad parts undoubtedly showed the versatility of Christopher Llewellyn's acting skills especially as I had to double take to make sure the same actor was playing the two very different men - but once I realised this, my mind kept wondering to how he was managing his quick changes and was a little distracting.

Perhaps the fact one man played both made you ponder whether they both manipulated Nora albeit in very different ways - or maybe it just cut the costs for a touring production!

The simple set, also designed by Woodward, adds to the feeling of instability with separate standalone frames indicating the marriage is not solid - that it is made up of parts that are not linked and these are used to great effect to highlight the state of Nora's world.

At the end of the first half, the actors tilt the doors towards Nora to hint at a world closing in on her and the collapse of her relationship with her husband.

When you come back after the interval these frames and those on the wall are slightly skewed showing that everything that surrounds her world is deconstructing.

As I sat there pondering over whether things had actually changed, whether women were still judged with a male eye, the hollow laughter from the audience at Torvald's torrent of outrageous references to her subordinance made me realise that to some extent they have.

And as I inwardly whooped at Nora's final decision I wondered how many of my 19th century female counterparts had done so too - even if they couldn't express it.

But to me Nora Helmer is not just an heroic feminist she is an example to us all in finding out who we are and trying to be that person, whatever it may cost.

I therefore hope one day my four-year-old daughter - who thought I was going to see a real doll's house - will appreciate this play as much as I do.

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