On Friday I went to see A Doll’s House by Henrik Ibsen at Barons Court Theatre and I think the lady, who I spoke to after the play had finished, summed it up perfectly.
She said, “I have never read or seen any Ibsen, but after this performance and listening to the words he gave Nora to speak in the last act, I am going to go out tomorrow and read everything he has ever written. I also think the fantastic cast deserves a much larger audience.” I feel the same.
Despite having been written over 130 years ago, the dialogue in this production by Kevin Russell of Bryony Lavery’s slightly stripped down adaptation, with the original ending, feels fresh and modern without compromising the period setting. Ibsen had a wonderful way writing about life of the middle-classes and what really went on behind the closed doors of seemingly respectable people that outwardly seem happy and without a care in the world.
The themes of the play are timeless and universal, with a feminist undertone that is especially surprising for an author of Ibsen’s gender, generation and class. Bank fraud, debt, loneliness, unrequited love, the right to die, spousal abuse and most of all emancipation– are all still very relevant subjects today.
The Doll’s House tells the story of Nora and her husband Torvald and how lies and deception, even if it is for the noblest of reasons, will, under the threat of exposure, unmask true feelings and emotions that turn what looked like a house on solid foundations into a house of cards.
It is Christmas Eve and Nora is looking forward to a rosier future, as her husband has been promoted to be director of the bank he works for. Finally she can see an end to the saving and scrimping. But all is not as it seems. Years ago, when her husband Torvald was very ill, she took out a loan, desperate to take him to Italy to recuperate. As a woman she was not allowed to get a loan from a bank without her husband’s knowledge, so she went to a loan shark and forged the signature of her dying father. This has now come back to haunt her, even though she has been able to keep up with repayments by taking on secret jobs and not spending all of her clothes allowance. The lender wants something else – the promise of a job in Torvald’s bank – and blackmails Nora to help him achieve his goal. Over the next two days the lives of every character in the play will change forever.
Kevin Russell has assembled a terrific cast, with the support actors as watchable as the main characters.
Akexa Matthews is compelling as Nora Helmer, first girly, flirty and resourceful, but as the play progresses her anguish and despair are palpable until she finally shows the determination to change her life forever and escape from being just her husband’s doll, even if that means sacrificing her three children for her freedom.
Paul Vates is convincing as Torvald Helmer, Nora’s husband, who does seem to love her but doesn’t take her seriously; indulging her like a child, treating her like a plaything – his ‘Nora bird’ – and resorting to physical violence and psychological abuse just as easily as showing affection.
Julia Florimo portraits Kristine Linde, a widow and childhood friend of Nora, with just the right amount of bitterness and self-pity. She feels cheated by life, having lost her husband and been left penniless after marrying more for convenience than out of love. But she is also a woman with a plan who knows how to go about to get her little slice of happiness.
Dr. Rank, the family friend suffering from a crippling and fatal disease, who is secretly in love with Nora, is played by Brian Merry, who does a wonderful job portraying both the physical and the mental pain of his character.
Ramzi DeHani is excellent as Nils Krogstad, the presumed villain of the play, who turns out to be not such a bad man after all. You can’t but feel for him, as his indiscretion, just like Nora’s, was triggered by desperation, rather than malice and he does redeem himself in the end.
Cathryn Sherman is great as Helene, in an amalgamation of the two characters of the maid and the nanny in the original play, a stoic and loyal domestic servant, who has a heart rending story of her own to tell.
The play is being performed in the small and wonderfully intimate Barons Court Theatre below the Curtains Up pub and it felt like I was eavesdropping on the life of Nora and Torvald and the final three days of their doomed marriage – it felt like being right there with them in their living room.
The set designer did a great job utilising the limited space, with just a door, two chairs and two side tables and the use of red fabrics in different hues used in the costumes and on the set, gave it a warm and vibrant feel. There were a few minor problems with the sound and lighting and sometime you could hear a bit of noise from the pub above, but this can easily be overlooked as it did not spoil my enjoyment of the play in the slightest.
Please try and see this play and take all your friends.
Photos by Robert Bloomfield, courtesy of New Dream Theatre.
A Doll’s House by Henrik Ibsen is on at the Barons Court Theatre at the Curtains Up pub until November 22nd 2015.
Tickets are £14, concessions £10