Marriage in miniature

first_imgA Doll’s Housedir Tom Littler15 – 18 NovemberThe MoserYou are requested not to mention Ibsen’s Doll’s House!” – such was the cry of many a social invitation in 1879, where even discussing the Norwegian playwright’s classic treatmentof a woman’s role in a patriarchal society was enough to incite scandal. In this production, however, director Tom Littler consciously shifts the emphasisaway from a female struggle in a male-dominated world to the universal struggle to assert personal freedom, and fulfil our “duty to ourselves.” What so shocked spectators in the nineteenth century – the idea that a heroine could lie to her family, and even put herself before her husband – is not what shocks audiences in the twenty-first century. However, Littler creates a fresh impact by bringing the human condition, and not social conditions, to the fore, questioning the motivations of Ibsen’s characters while investigating the relationshipbetween loyalty and liberty.The staging reflects the contemporarynature of such themes; the action is wrenched firmly away from the stuffy Victorian lounges in which it is normally found and thrown firmly into the present day, presenting us with a meticulously recreated present day living room. With the play also being performed outside Oxford, designer Pip Swindall has a far greater budget to work from than we would expect from a Moser production, and it shows. The lavish set, carpeted and fully decorated, creates a perfect naturalistic backdrop, encouraging the audience to lose themselves in the confines of Nora’s domestic world. The realism restores the immediacy that would have greeted original audiences by placing Nora Helmer’s distressing story within the comfortable surroundings of an average middle-class home. A doll’s house itself sits ominously among the possessions, a reminder of Nora’s trapped state, merely a toy to be played with, as and when her family chooses, while the merry Christmasadornments stand in stark contrast to the increasingly fraught emotions of the various characters. Christmas carols drift disquietingly through the play, their joyfulness ravaged by white noise, or by the creak of a door, a leitmotif that hints menacingly at the play’s shattering conclusion. The naturalistic set is punctured by a projection screen, doubling as a window, where shifting images convey the internal worlds of Ibsen’s characters, helping to clarify their inner thoughts and desires.The acting is almost invariably excellent, a high degree of naturalism meaning we often forget we are watchinga theatrical performance. Claire Palmer beautifully captures Nora’s conflict of loyalties, and provides a powerful and intensely empathetic focus for the play, carrying herself wonderfullyin an incredibly draining role. Kane Sharpe, as her husband Torvald, creates the archetypal modern professional;charming, condescending and reputation-obsessed, he is not simply a fierce misogynist but a loving husband, albeit one to whom a wife is a pet. Their initial playful exchanges, where Torvald teasingly reprimands his little “squirrel” for being a spendthrift, make their later exchanges all the more devastating, the contrast between the superficially happy family and Nora’s horribly constrained relationship with her husband brought into even sharper relief.The couple are well supported by Ben Galpin as the blackmailing Krogstadt, not presented as a one-dimensional evil but as a sympathetic character with understandablemotives, and Caz Brown, a world-weary, compassionate Kristine. The freshness of Ibsen’s dialogue makes it seem almost contemporary, and the cast approach it as such, with electrifying results. The staging can at times become overly static but the constantly engaging naturalism of the characters means it rarely becomes tedious.A Doll’s House is an emotionally exhausting piece of theatre, but a truly rewarding one, and while we may not be scandalised by this production, it provides a unique exploration into what our duty is to ourselves and to others. You are encouraged to discuss it.ARCHIVE: 5th week MT 2005last_img

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