Thursday, 26 July 2012

Theatre Review: 27 July

A 19th-century shocker, Ibsen’s classic unveils the fatal flaws in a marriage

Written by Georgina Brown


georgina-brown 2805Other people's marriages are a mystery – and endlessly fascinating. Was it Scientology that made Katie Holmes slam the door on Tom Cruise? Or was it his high heels? For Nora, in Ibsen's marvellous A Doll's House, it was the realisation that she had, for nine years, been treated as a bimbo by a controlling, patronising husband.

This is the play that famously ends with Nora slamming the door of her home on her husband and three little ones, a sound that has echoed down the corridors of dramatic history. A shocker when it was written in 1879, Carrie Cracknell's revival at the Young Vic still packs a powerful punch – and to intensify the horror of a woman leaving her children, Nora's new baby is the real thing, a gurgling infant with chubby legs.

While playwright Simon Stephens's new version of the play sticks to the 19th-century Norwegian setting, he has made subtle changes. Nora's husband, Torvald, calls his wife his 'little hamster' rather than a squirrel. A hamster is caged, a squirrel can run free.

He has also heightened the humour: Torvald (Dominic Rowan), tight and randy after a party, goes home to find Nora's friend Kristine knitting in the sitting room, wrecking his chances of some nooky. 'Knitting,' he mocks, attempting to mime it. 'It's bloody ugly. There's something Chinese about it.'

The set adds to Nora's entrapment. Here is a young woman who has boldly, secretly, borrowed money to go abroad to improve her husband's health when he was ill. Now the loan shark is threatening to expose her and she realises that instead of appreciating her selfless act, Torvald is going to punish her.

Ian MacNeil, the genius behind the collapsing house on stilts for Stephen Daldry's An Inspector Calls, has created a cramped apartment of tiny spaces. As it revolves, we see Nora flitting from room to room. But as it spins faster, it reflects the giddiness in her mind as she tries to keep her husband from knowing the truth.

Hattie Morahan's outstanding Nora begins adorably girlish, gushing and naive. 'Is it true that you didn't love your husband?' she asks Kristine in disbelief. But as she recognises that her own marriage is not what she had believed, and that she can no longer be the little doll her husband turned her into, she grows up. Awash with tears, there is no doubting her resolution to go out into the world to find herself.

Young Vic, The Cut, London SE1, until 4 August: 020-7922 2922,

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