A Doll’s House
By Henrik Ibsen
Translated by Michael Meyer
North Shields Exchange Theatre
1 October 2022
On Tour Across the North East
Ibsen’s powerful examination of 19th Century married life is still as powerful today as it was when it shocked European audiences. Elysium Theatre Company are rightly proud of their touring production as it captures the conflict between one’s public image and our internal monologue. Ibsen’s feminist play holds a mirror up to modern society.
They said “Focusing on the self-discovery of central character Nora Helmer, a woman who goes against conventions and rules of a patriarchal society by defying her husband, ‘A Doll’s House’ was one of the first plays to put modern marriage under the spotlight, and look at the institution from a woman’s point of view. A Doll’s House is regarded as one of the greatest plays of all time, and is said to have ‘fired the starting gun’ on modern theatre.”
A Doll’s House was considered revolutionary back in 1879. Set in a living room featuring normal people talking normally. A naturalistic drama that we take for granted now. But, in order for a show to still be relevant nearly 150 years later and to be a text that is studied at school it needs to have a relevant message. The series of reveals in the second act, as Ibsen exposes the inner turmoil of the characters, is in direct contrast to the largely public front maintained in the first act. Despite the passage of time it is still a rollercoaster of a show that offers something for modern audiences.
Hannah Ellis Ryan appears as the central character Nora who has been married for 8 years and apparently has three children that are never seen in the living room. She is known as a spendthrift and publicly comes across as quite egocentric - never fully understanding the consequences of her actions. As the marriage vows used to say - she has promised to “honour and obey” her husband Torvald, who has just been promoted to Vice-President of the Bank. Danny Solomon portrays a man who views his wife as yet another one of his possessions that should behave the way that he expects them too. He orders his wife not to eat treats such as the delicious macaroons that she is fond of.
The play begins with Nora arriving after a Christmas present shopping spree. Torvald offers her additional housekeeping money to cover the festival period as the maid Anne-Marie (Wynne Potts) brings in the Christmas tree. Then one of Nora’s friends from the past drops in. Heather Carrol’s role as Christine Linde is as much about what is not said as it is about her actual dialogue with Nora. Under Jake Murray’s direction the pauses and glances are significant as the monologues from Nora about how good life is.Also appearing on the scene at this juncture is bank worker Krogstad (Michael Blair) who is clearly up to something and family friend Dr Rank (Robin Kingsland).
At the interval one has formed an opinion about each character's public persona. The quality in Ibsen’s writing is how it unravels in the second act. Chris Neville-Smith’s sound design adds to the tension once we can hear the faint sounds of the party nearby knowing that Nora and Torvald are about to return for the final showdown.
Is this play relevant today? Absolutely. On our way home we discussed some couples we know in which the husband had set the parameters of their married life. There are “Torvalds” out there expecting their wives to “obey”. Apart from the lack of technology (other than Nora’s wristwatch) the play doesn’t feel dated - and that is remarkable after so many years. Perhaps a modern script might be shorter - this show was just short of 3 hours with an interval - but Ibsen had a lot to say. Ibsen was able to show characters without prejudice about their motivations.
Review: Stephen Oliver
Photos: Jake Rusby
Tickets and Tour Information:
3 Oct – Alnwick Playhouse, Alnwick (https://www.alnwickplayhouse.co.uk/)
5 – 8 Oct – Assembly Rooms Theatre, Durham (https://www.theassemblyroomstheatre.org/)
11 Oct – Princess Alexandria, Yarm (https://www.thepaaonline.org/)
12 Oct – Georgian Theatre Royal, Richmond (https://www.georgiantheatreroyal.co.uk/)
13 Oct – Fire Station, Sunderland (https://sunderlandculture.org.uk/our-venues/the-fire-station/)
14 Oct – Town Hall, Bishop Auckland (https://bishopaucklandtownhall.org.uk/)
15 Oct – Civic Theatre, Gosforth (https://www.gosforthcivictheatre.co.uk/)