As a play that sparked controversy from the first ever performance, Ibsen’s A Doll’s House speaks of male-dominance, the role of the housewife, and how to break free of the confines of society. This summer, it has taken The Young Vic by storm in a new translation by Simon Stephens, and takes a hold of the text in a new and insightful way.
Set in 1878 Norway, A Doll’s House is the story of Nora Helmer, a classic housewife with loving husband Torvald, and three beautiful children. Their lives are picture-perfect – but as Christmas looms around the corner, a dark secret that Nora has held for many years begins to rise to the surface, and along with it comes the shady character of Nils Krogstad. What unfolds is a desperate woman seeking her own identity in a world for men.
I rather amused myself and my companion when seeing the revolving set in all its glory once the lights went down – declaring “It’s like a doll’s house!”, I gasped at the realisation of Ian MacNeil’s design. One floor of the Helmer’s apartment, complete with hallway, doors, windows, and Torvald’s study, is placed in front of your eyes, and the revolve allows the family to move throughout it in a wholly natural way whilst still allowing the audience an untarnished view of life within its walls, a bizarre point of view that appears both voyeuristic and like play time.
Hattie Morahan (Outnumbered, Sense & Sensibility) is a frantic, high-energy Nora, displaying a childlike excitement that evolves naturally into the stark realisation of her situation. With incredible sensitivity to text and fullness of character, Morahan is a phenomenal presence to watch. Dominic Rowan played Nora’s husband, Torvald, in such a way that you were drawn to sympathise with him – just a man stuck in the world he grew up in, not aware of the damage he is doing but left lost and alone for reasons he cannot understand. In a clever piece of direction by Carrie Cracknell, the Helmer’s children were onstage – they were not fanciful ideas, but developed characters that enhanced Nora’s actions at the end of the play. This woman had a relationship with her children – healthy or otherwise – and seeing their dynamics in front of your eyes make for a powerful piece of performance.
The remaining cast members (Steve Toussaint, Lynne Verrall, Nick Fletcher, Yolanda Kettle, and Susannah Wise) were just as strong – the exchanges between Fletcher and Wise as Krogstad and Kristine respectively were tender but laden with emotion and the complications of a 10year bitter history.
Once again I find myself in awe of the Young Vic as both a versatile venue and a platform for innovative theatre, and this version of A Doll’s House does not disappoint. In a production that combines Ibsen’s phenomenal writing with intuitive design and imagination, you’ll be hard-pressed to find fault in this new adaptation.