Review - A Doll's House at Lyric Hammersmith

A Doll's House
Our critics rating: 
Date: 
Thursday, 12 September, 2019, 11:15
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Lyric Hammersmith is not so much a doll's house of a theatre as a jewel box Tardis: an unexpectedly traditional Victorian theatre, on three levels, that has been delicately reassembled and recreated from plasterwork preserved from a demolished theatre and recreated within a modern 1970s building.

It has long provided a defining anchor to west London's theatrical offering that also includes the increasingly essential Bush Theatre, itself recently reinvigorated by the arrival of artistic director Lynette Linton. Now Hammersmith is also set to have a bold make-over, as another prominent female director Rachel O'Riordan takes over the artistic reigns.  

She inaugurates her regime with a challenging, forceful new version of Ibsen's forever-radical 1879 play A Doll's House, about gender politics in marriage in which a doted-upon, infantilised wife realises how unjustly she's being treated and finally breaks free from it.

That may prove to be a spoiler for how the plot unfolds, but as adapted by Tanika Gupta, there are fresh new layers to unpack in her skilful and clever new version that retains the period of the play's original premiere -- but transposes the action from a Norwegian fjord town to colonial Calcutta in India, in which Nora now becomes Niru, a Bengali woman married to Tom, an English administrator.

Niru, whom Tom early on characterises in a fond but patronising comment as "a very pretty but expensive pet", is an exotic ornament to her husband's life: another thing to be controlled in a country he feels it is his right to tame.

But Niru has her own sense of individuality - and ownership. Her efforts to support her husband rebound on her in an act of blackmail. The superb Anjana Vasan brilliantly charts her journey from coquettish playfulness to steely resolve. As her husband, Elliot Cowan has the right handsome bluster and a fatal lack of awareness.  

O'Riordan surrounds them with a fine supporting cast - including Assad Zaman as Niru's desperate blackmailer - that bring colour and nuance to this riveting power-play.

A Doll's House is at the Lyric Hammersmith until 5th October. 

A Doll's House tickets are available now. 

Photo credit: Helen Maybanks

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