‘Nora: A Doll’s House’ review CANCELLED
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Stef Smith multiplies Ibsen by three for her powerful riff on ‘A Doll’s House’
The remaining dates of 'Nora' are cancelled due to Covid-19
Stef Smith’s take on Ibsen’s endlessly staged ‘A Doll’s House’ is an exercise in theatrical maths. Multiply the protagonist, Nora, by three. Add on some decades, so that each Nora is living in a different era. Subtract a few minor characters. The result? An intense, ambitious survey of women’s shifting roles, which amplifies each step in Ibsen’s elegantly crafted story, as though Nora’s stamping through a cathedral in Doc Martens.
One Nora (Amaka Okafor) is living in 1918, and has just joyfully cast her first vote. Another Nora (Natalie Klamar) is living in 1968, popping valium on the brink of the sexual revolution. A third Nora (Anna Russell-Martin) is stuck in comparatively uninspiring 2018, married to a payday-loan manager. Smith’s ingenious dialogue passes between the three as the story of Nora’s desperate attempts to conceal her financial struggles unfold, making what could be massively complicated feel simple and legible. A single actor (Luke Norris) plays Thomas, their husband, whose guileless paternalism shifts flavour in each time period without ever really changing.
The play started life in Glasgow’s Tramway: director Elizabeth Freestone and designer Tom Piper’s production doesn’t always inhabit the Young Vic’s brilliantly flexible playing space with the confidence it could. There’s something about its arrangement of doorframes and neon that feels a bit old-school, not quite equal to conjuring the magic of this liminal space, caught between centuries.
‘Nora’ is at its best when it’s playing with the ambiguities its set-up creates, especially the resonances that emerge as the actors playing Nora assume the role of her struggling friend Christine in each other’s time periods. There’s an incredible scene where (and this is impossible to describe but here goes) its three female actors each switch between playing Nora and Christine from each era in turn, appealing to each other in a strained triangle of friendship. This subtlety is lost when their lines become an anthem, not a harmony; when they chant their final declarations of feminist independence in unison, it feels a little bit pat, a bit easy.
But luckily, Smith’s always ready to complicate things. Ibsen based his play on the experiences of his friend, Laura Kieler, who was sent to an asylum when her deception was discovered. He erased this pain from his story, but Smith finds a twenty-first-century equivalent, pointing to the way that patriarchal oppression is enabled by an unequal society. Money is just as ugly as sexism. It’s a new kind of slamming door – maybe not one with triple the impact of Ibsen’s ending, but one with a pull of its own.