All dolled up

A Doll’s House (La Boite Theatre Company)

La Boite Theatre, Roundhouse Theatre

September 6 – 27

Henry Isben’s “A Doll’s House” is a classic play, telling the story of how protagonist Nora’s seemingly happy marriage and family life becomes complicated by a series of secrets and lies. (Having broken the law by borrowing money, with forged signature and no male guarantor, she lives in fear of her secret being exposed.) And it is a timeless text for a reason.

“I think the best thing for me to say is as little as possible. I want to allow the work that Isben, Lallly [Lally Katz, the show’s playwright], the creatives, crew, cast and myself have done to speak for itself,” Director of “A Doll’s House”, Steven Mitchell Wright notes in his program notes. How odd it is, therefore, to then have the experience of the play hijacked by a final feminist manifesto from a modernised Nora, for while this seminal work has a certain contextual specificity, it also has an intrinsic universality. This is what has made it so enduring. So it in entirely unnecessary to sermonise as a lead-in to Nora’s famous door slam.

That aside, the show’s sterling touches are many. Ever the Steven Mitchell Wright show, the exaggerated, gothic-like aesthetic is rich in the opulence of Tim Burton-esque imagery, realised through internationally renowned Dan Potra’s design. The visual aesthetic is quite magnificent in its melodrama. Strung from the ceiling, the stage rotates though the three acts, tightening around the characters as Nora’s secret web of lies unravels their picture perfect lives.

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Victorian in demeanor, the characters are realised in hyper-realism. Hugh Parker is quite beguiling as the domineering, ambitious and moral patriarch Torvald Helmer, as patronising to his wife as the production’s conclusion is to the audience, but very much a product of his time. As his caged hummingbird, no longer singing, Nora (Helen Christinson) is presented as precious and porcelain-like, but broken (much like the three-legged chairs that corner the stage), all dolled up and delicate in her pink doily dresses.

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Chris Beckey as Nils Krogstad, from whom Nora has borrowed the money, is a compelling villain, equal parts cartoonish and evil and his scenes with Cienda McNamara as Nora’s tough, world-wise friend Kristine are appealing in their comfort, despite the lack of eye contact or genuine interaction that characterises virtually all of the show’s dialogue delivery.

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Ibsen’s text is one of the most performed plays in the world (his global popularity, it has been said, is second only to Shakespeare’s). As important as conversations about feminism are, however, “A Doll’s House” is about so much more than this. Despite its focus on Torvald and Nora’s spousal relationship, its themes regarding the loss of identify are relevant to any relationship. Indeed, Isben himself didn’t see his play as feminist; he saw it as humanist. He thought every person, man and woman, had a right to be who they wanted to be. Thus, the show should be about universal happiness more than feminist realisation. And to distrust the audience with this, not only undermines the show’s earlier sophistication, but disrespects the intellect of its members.

Photos c/o – https://www.facebook.com/LaBoiteTheatreCompany

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