first night

A Doll's House

Rosie Boscawen enjoys Another Soup's production of Henrik Ibsen's classic marital drama.

A Doll’s House is a play of big social and gender-related questions. The script is powerful in its own right, and although a strong production is always preferable, the walls don’t come crashing down if the foundations aren’t as sturdy as they could be. Another Soups’ production fits into the latter category, though that is not by any means to say that it is bad theatre. Dave Spencer and his cast have created something enjoyable, at times capturing the humour and at others the tragic frustration that Nora experiences in her role as her husband’s doll. 

Juliet Maddock, as Nora Helmer, incessantly flits between her two personalities as husband’s pet and woman in her own right, emphasising the tension of her situation. These changes are not always clear-cut, however, and at times she is not quite as naïve as she could be around Torvald. A slight directorial quibble is that she is a character renowned for her inconsiderate and selfish moments and, though these characteristics do come out occasionally, Maddock does not evince them consistently, meaning that when, for example, she snaps at Mrs. Linde, it seems out of character.

Oliver Hillbourne, who plays her husband Torvald, is more consistent in his characterisation, but lacks energy. He is not condescending enough towards his wife, which has repercussions for the veracity of his anger towards Nora and his subsequent forgiveness of her in the second half of the play. Dr Rank (Michael Huband) at times also suffers from this slightly static air. His gestures are slow and forced and do not match the deep emotions he feels for Nora and about his illness. Rank is a funny character and Huband captures this every now and then, though at times he is too heavily sarcastic and as a result the humour is lost.

The most powerful, though relatively small, performance comes from Fergus Leathem as Krogstad. His presence is frighteningly forceful in his scenes with Nora and he finds a tone suitable for a man in his position: quietly aggressive, but rational. Both he and Beth Greenwood as Mrs Linde provide a good contrast to Nora’s incessant, self-centred chattering. Greenwood’s body language and facial expressions are particularly impressive in this respect, although they do weaken as the play progresses. The Helmers’ maid Anne-Marie (Steffi Walker) has one key scene in which Nora asks her about her own daughter that she had to give up; the two actresses convey the poignancy effectively.

Spencer’s staging of the play is well thought-out. Although the set is a little incongruous for the era of the play (arty photos, wax-crayon masterpieces by the Helmer children, and an iPod) the space is used successfully and the blocking is effective. The idea of having the door – through which someone is always coming or going – in the auditorium allows for interesting off-stage speculations about the characters as they wait to be let in to the house. I won’t tell you what Spencer does with Nora’s final exit, it being a point of such great critical debate in past productions, other than to say it adds a nice meta-theatrical twist to the play.

This is a good interpretation of a classic play and, if its elements aren’t as polished as they could be, they are still on the shiny – and not the dull – side.

One more thing – if you do go, be sure to buy a programme. It has by far and away the most play-relevant advert I have ever seen in Durham.

16 November 2010

The views expressed in the reviews and comments on this page are those of the reviewer, and are not representative of the views of DST or Durham University.
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