Nora: A Doll's House

Review - Nora: A Doll's House at the Young Vic Theatre

Mark Shenton
Mark Shenton

In 2012 the Young Vic scored a notable triumph with a production of Ibsen's A Doll's House, starring Hattie Morahan in vibrant, tenacious form as Ibsen's increasingly desperate heroine who commits a fraud to protect her sick husband and their family, only to have him cruelly reject her when he finds out what she's done - and then she famously finds her own independence to walk away from him. That production earned Morahan both the Evening Standard and Critics' Circle Awards for best actress, and subsequently transferred to the West End's Duke of York's Theatre in 2013 and then New York's BAM in 2014. 

Now the Young Vic, in a co-production of Glasgow's Citizens' Theatre, has returned to this visionary 19th-century masterpiece - but working with young Scottish playwright Stef Smith, director Elizabeth Freestone has gutted the play to add several more interpretive layers to it, splitting Nora into three separate characters at different points in time - 1918, 1968 and 2018 - but following the same narrative outline.

Though there's some fascination for those that already know the play in trying to piece the action back together through these different lenses, it ends up being too clever for its own good, only sowing confusion instead of revealing fresh insights. 

Freestone's brief programme note says more about the intention than the production does: "The play is set over three different time periods, each of which was an iconic moment in the journey for women's liberation. 1918 was the year of suffrage and the end of the first world war. 1968 was the year of abortion being legalised and the pill coming into common usage. 2018 was the #MeToo moment and changes to the laws about domestic violence. Each of these landmarks uses Nora's story to assess how far we have come and consider how far we have still to go." 

However resonant these time periods may be, in fact, the muddle on stage doesn't clearly differentiate each of the Nora's sufficiently, as the three actors playing them (Anna Russell-Martin, Natalie Klamar, and Amaka Okafor) blur and overlap into each other. That may partly be the point, but it undermines both Ibsen's original structure and our investment in her fate. Each actor has an uphill climb to carve out any individuality, beyond the distinctive period costumes they've been assigned. 

By playing each of the three different versions of the husband Thomas (Torvald in the original), Luke Norris is able to establish more consistency.  

Last year, the Lyric Hammersmith staged a new version of the play that offered fresh insight into the play not by splitting Nora into three but transposing the action from a Norwegian fjord town to colonial Calcutta in India, in which Nora became Niru, a Bengali woman married to Tom, an English administrator.

That proved altogether more compelling than this experimental version. 

Nora: A Doll's House is at the Young Vic until 21st March. 

Photo credit: Marc Brenner

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