03 July 2012

A Doll's House - Young Vic, Thursday 29th June 2012


Nora Helmer is, for once, enjoying life. Mrs. Linde, an old friend stops by hoping to find a job. Nora's husband Torvald recently earned a promotion, so Nora recommends Mrs. Linde’s services to her husband, Torvald. Nora, however, is carrying a dark secret. When Torvald was very ill, she forged her dead father's signature in order to illegally obtain a loan to support the family, and has secretly been paying back the loan in small installments saved from her housekeeping money.
Nils Krogstad, an employee at Torvald’s bank, collects the debt payments and knows Nora’s secret, as he has a copy of the loan agreement. Trying to consolidate his position at the bank, which he has obtained with difficulty after being arrested himself for forgery in order to gain money, he attempts blackmail. Nora manages to conceal her guilt from her husband and from Dr. Rank, a kind yet sickly friend of the Helmers.
Suspicious that Krogstad has criminial tendencies, Torvald attempts to remove him from his post and replace him with Mrs. Linde; Nora is forced to try to dissuade him. She attempts to gain Dr. Rank’s confidence and help, but is repulsed when she finds that Rank has always loved her.
Mrs. Linde tells Nora that she had a romantic attachment to Krogstad in the past, and that she can perhaps persuade him to relent. However, Krogstad does not sway in his position. It seems that Torvald is bound to discover the truth and Nora contemplates suicide. She believes that if she does not commit suicide, Torvald will bravely assume responsibility for her crimes, going to jail on her behalf.
Krogstad and Mrs. Linde are reconciled, and the loan agreement is destroyed. However, Krogstad’s letter of denciation is still in the glass-fronted mailbox, where Nora can see it but not retrieve it.
After returning from a party , Nora and Torvald unwind at home. Torvald discusses how he enjoys watching her at parties, pretending that he is encountering her for the first time. Dr. Rank interrupts them, hinting that he will be shutting himself up in his room until his sickness finally wins.
Torvald discovers Krogstad's incriminating note. He declares that Nora is immoral, unfit as a wife and mother. The irony is that moments before, Torvald has been discussing how he wished that Nora faced some sort of peril, so that he could prove his love for her. Yet, once that peril is actually presented, he has no intention of saving her, only condemning her actions.
Krogstad drops another note saying that he has rediscovered love, and that he no longer wants to blackmail the Helmer family. Torvald rejoices, declaring that they are saved. He then, in a moment of sheer hypocrisy, states that he forgives Nora, and that he still loves her as his little "caged song bird."
In a flash, Nora realizes that Torvald is not the loving, selfless husband she had once envisioned. With that epiphany, she also comes to understand that their marriage has been a lie, and that she herself has been an active part in the deception. Torvald desperately begs her to stay.

Torvald Helmer, a banker – Dominic Rowan
Nora, his wife – Hattie Morahan
Helene, their maid – Yolanda Kettle
Anna, their children’s nurse – Lynne Verrall
Dr Rank, a family friend – Steve Toussaint
Nils Krogstad, a junior colleague of Helmer – Nick Fletcher
Kristine Lind, an old friend of Nora – Susannah Wise

Creative Team
Original text by Henrik Ibsen
Adapted by Simon Stephens
Director – Carrie Cracknell
Design – Ian MacNeil
Costumes – Gabrielle Dalton
Set by Miraculous Engineering

This play is set in Norway. This may well explain why the Young Vic had the air conditioning turned up to such an extent that people were sitting in the auditorium shivering with the cold. Take a coat. Or a blanket. Or both. Try not to laugh ironically when one of the characters complains “how hot it is tonight”.

This play also has a baby in it. A real live baby. Get ready for the baby’s appearance as you will be able to coo appreciatively with the vast majority of the rest of the audience. Comments elsewhere on this blog about live animals in productions are now superseded in favour of the appearance of a human baby on the set if you want your audience to go home talking about the show.
“What was the play like?”

“It was OK. But there was a BABY in it! A REAL baby! It was soooooooo cute! It was being carried by someone! In a blanket! It was soooooooo cute! It had a nose! And eyes! And little hands! And some hair!”

Really? Wow!”
Try not to mix this play up beforehand with other Scandinavian plays by the same author. Ones about syphilis. You will be disappointed when it is not mentioned. Acknowledge the fact that he was well ahead of his time in a) writing great parts for women and b) tackling important social issues from a female point of view. Afterwards, try not to snigger as Him Indoors says that “The play sees life through a different prism”. Try not to get pissed off when Him Indoors says “Have you never seen another Ibsen play? Well, its not surprising; after all, you don’t have any theatrical pedigree do you?” Remind him that you did, in fact, once see Juliet Stephenson playing Hedda Gabbler at the National.

Admire the set. It is very, very lovely and very clever. It is another revolving house, and allows parents to play games of hide and seek with their children and suchlike, while opening up the action from what could be a very static production if done on a set representing only one room, as the original stage directions dictate. It also allows you little glimpses of what is going on elsewhere in the house which add to your appreciation of the plot, and also becomes a character in the story in its own right. It is elegant, yet claustrophobic (there is a marvellous scene played out in the cramped confines of the hallway between Nora and Krogstad), and the inhabitants are permanently on view, both to ourselves and to the other inhabitants. There is little privacy. It is, in fact, A Doll’s House. Try desperately not to get irked by the fact that, although it is 1878, there are incandescent gas filaments along the hall but both an electric light switch on the wall of the main living room and a modern table lamp on the bedside cabinet, the flex of which can be seen clearly coiling under the bed. Try to screen out the hideous modern plastic Christmas tree, lest you be thought a nit-picker. Try to blank out the articles of furniture which are obviously modern and instead convince yourself that they are from the 1877 IKEA catalogue and that the Norwegians were obviously 120 years or so ahead of everyone else in terms of furniture design, because the set is still very pretty and very clever regardless of these points. It allows for some very clever and “filmic” direction because, as it revolves, you will be able to see someone’s back as they walk from one room and then their face as they stick their head round the door to speak to the occupant of another room. Try not to hope desperately that, as the set revolves, two characters who are entering the house will miss the front door as it passes and have to wait for it to come round again, because that would be childish. Admire and applaud the director for their set design and for cleverly incorporating 360 degree directing into the play, bringing a sense of film to the theatre stage.

Amuse yourself for a couple of seconds thinking how much piss the West End Whingers are going to take of the “on stage meal” (they are obsessed by these, and also by garden benches, for some obviously Freudian reason) when said on stage meal consists of a single slice of smoked salmon wiggled onto a plate. No lemon juice? No black pepper? No brown buttered bread? Tight bitch.

Try frantically, but vainly, to blank out the fact that a major plot device is a lockable mailbox with a clear glass front, through which an important letter can be seen but frustratingly (and vitally important to the plot) not retrieved, because you will not locate the mailbox anywhere on the set, but only see a modern front door with a letterbox from which the covering metal flap has been removed and replaced with a strip of Perspex each side. This is apparently now the lockable mailbox, and although it is only 9” or so wide and the thickness of the door in which it is set, it is apparently capable of holding about three days’ worth of post within it. Do not mention this point to Him Indoors afterwards as you will be told you are a nit-picker.

Do wonder why the male characters are wearing business suits of a 21st century style and cut, and whether women’s fashions of the year 1878 really did consist of tightly fitting bodices with no sleeves. Wonder why a period-correct costume is being worn by the female lead on the cover of the programme when she is not wearing one on stage. Do, however, admire the costumes which are of the correct style and cut for the period.

Do applaud the stunning performance by Hattie Morahan as Nora, as it will leave you wondering how anyone would be able to give such an intense performance of roller-coaster emotions 8 times a week for the next month and not need psychotherapy (or at least a damned good holiday) afterwards. Do wonder if Nick Fletcher is playing his part that way because he thinks that villains should be cold, inaudible and emotionally sterile or whether it is merely because he is the worst actor you have ever seen on stage and has all the acting talent of a potted chrysanthemum. Do wonder why the character of Dr. Rank, who is apparently old and frail and dying of some terminal illness, is played by a youngish man seemingly in complete and vital full health according to the way in which he bounds around the stage. Do bemoan the fact that Ms. Morahan is not given a solo bow at the end, but has to take her bow with the entire cast, even though some characters have five lines or less in the entire evening. Thank your lucky stars that the baby does not come on to take a bow.

Enjoy your evening. But get your tickets quick because this looks like a hit.  Wait a couple of days for the opening night reviews.

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