I usually steer away from the ‘classics’ but there was something about this production of Ibsen’s A Doll’s House that helped overcome any innate fears of mine, and that was having Scottish writer Stef Smith taking charge to drag the play from the ennui of its tedious 19th century legacy to give it – and me – a new life, writes Michael Holland.
Three women, three lives, three Noras dressed in shades of purple, spread 50 years apart from 1918, to 1968 to 2018. Significant years of women getting the vote, the decriminalisation of abortion, and the #MeToo movement. Three stories about women stifled by men over a hundred years to show that nothing has really changed but a change is gonna come.
The whole interwoven tale is played out in Nora’s house. The themes are often recurring and the conversations replicated to highlight that, although women are constantly striving for something else in their lives, life seemingly stays the same. To cope with this Nora One’s secret pleasure is sugar; Nora Two, Valium, while Nora Three usually has a small bottle of vodka to hand.
All the elements of Ibsen’s original are there but with a modern spin. Crucially, the same patriarchal male dominance rules the roost at home, and even local men can talk down to the lady of the house. But when the Noras have to do something drastic, though illegal, to keep the family fed and afloat for a while, and the threat of blackmail clouds the horizon, the husbands, instead of admitting their part in this and standing up for their wives, they shout about the shame to their name this will bring, offering only backhanded ‘forgiveness’. This is the turning point for the women to ‘give up a lifetime of imprisonment to be free’, the catalyst for escaping the doll’s house constructed by the men.
Absolutely excellent performances from the three women, and ably supported by the three men. But the real star of this Doll’s House for me was Natalie Klamar as Nora Two, the Swinging Sixties Dolly Bird love child of Frank Spencer and Brenda Blethyn who says ‘the relief of the pills comes like a life raft’. Every part of her acts, from her head and hands right down to her nervously shifting feet. I’m sure her toes gave a better performance than some work I’ve seen this year. Her two word shout of ‘F**king fuming!’ got the biggest laugh of the night.
Thank you Stef Smith for bringing Ibsen – and me – into the light.
Nora: A Doll’s House is on at the Young Vic, Main House, 66 The Cut, Waterloo, London, SE1 8LZ until 21st March 2020. Times: Mon – Sat 7.30pm; Wed & Sat matinees 2.30pm. Admission: £10 – £43. Phone: 020 7922 2922
Photos: Marc Brenner