Theater Review Production Gimmicks Diminish the Masterpiece

Nora: a dollhouse
Royal Exchange Manchester

IBSEN’s A Doll’s House is unquestionably a theatrical masterpiece. Not just for its poetic language and structure, but because it lives on and remains as fresh and relevant today as it was shocking 150 years ago.

Nora is one of the great female characters in the scene. Her journey from oppression to a kind of emancipation is an inspiration to many women.

Like all masterpieces, the piece is ripe to be adapted and updated for an ever-changing modern world.

When it was announced that the Royal Exchange was to open its spring season with a reimagining of A Doll’s House featuring multiple Noras, it sounded bold, brave and exciting.

In Stef Smith’s reworking, three actors play the role of Nora, with one set in 1918, another in 1968, and the third in 2018. This creates an intriguing premise and seeing Nora’s story unfold on different periods is a fascinating idea.

Unfortunately, despite the anticipation, things don’t go well. Having three Noras playing simultaneously and interweaving their stories becomes a bit of a confusing mess. The underlying oppression and tension in Ibsen’s original is abandoned in favor of gimmick.

If the challenge of playing the same character isn’t enough, the three actors must grapple with each being Christine as well as Nora. It’s a huge ask and all three try hard, but unfortunately the structure of the game lets them down.

Ibsen’s portrayal of Nora’s husband is one of a bubbling, controlling and menacing man. Here, Tom seems dizzy, having to meet three wives at different times. He’s a bit garish but there’s no threat.

By contrast, Andrew Sheridan’s Nathan, the bank clerk who tries to blackmail Nora, portrays a man wracked with despair, conflicted with the steps he must take to save his family. Sheridan understands the importance of controlled emotion in Ibsen’s text.

It was a real opportunity to imagine how Nora’s life can change over three very different time periods.

While gender discrimination is still a curse of the modern age, things have changed since 1879. It’s worth exploring how different Nora’s life could be at different stages.

In the end, we learn that in 1918 Nora could vote, in 1968 there are references to abortion and the pill, and perhaps Nora’s lesbian feelings and in 2018 she can say “fuck”.

Somewhere inside that idea is a big play. Unfortunately that’s not it.

Until April 2, 2022. Box office (0161) 833-9833 or royalexchange.co.uk.

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