‘A Doll’s House’ at The Duke of York’s Theatre

Nora has been petted and indulged her whole life, first by her father and then by her husband.  She makes few decisions, and those that she does make, she expects to have few consequences.  She has done one thing though which will have far reaching effects when her husband finds out about it.  He believes that her desire for money, for additional housekeeping, is to indulge her childish pleasure in shopping.  In fact she needs the cash to pay the interest on a loan she took out to pay for a trip to Italy for her husband’s health.

I believe this is a new translation of the play, and I was watching and listening to the sharp intakes of breath from the audience in response to the most patronising and infantilising things her husband says to Nora, I did wonder how heavily the original Norwegian text had to express the notion of the frivolity of women for a 19th century audience to react to it; because Nora, when we first meet her, is a self-obsessed, irritatingly silly woman.  So irritating that K, my theatre companion, expressed a reluctance to remain in her company for the second half after the interval, until I persuaded her to stay.  The point of Nora is that when she understands that her husband really does see her as only a decorative adjunct to himself, she awakes from her doll like sleep and leaves to grow into herself on her own. It must have been a controversial idea at the time it was written; but still today I heard a conversation in the audience after the play about the wickedness of her leaving her children behind (especially after the murmurs of surprise and approval when they had a real toddler, rather than a rolled up blanket prop on stage in one scene where she was playing with her offspring.)

I enjoyed the play, as, in sharp contrast to my experience of Fences it gave me a portrait of a deeply flawed character who, though her experiences, developed some self-awareness and understanding of her own role in her frailties.  Hattie Morahan as Nora shows her development from silliness to anger as one of slow gradations, her fluting childlike voice gradually changing to one of deep adult power as the drama progresses, until finally she leaves the house slamming the door loudly behind her.  There was also real pleasure and satisfaction in knowing that Nora’s school friend, the sad, widowed Kristine has finally found happiness with the suitor she thought she had lost years before.

The drama is acted out in a clever and intricate revolving set. The doll’s house of the title, it does indeed resemble one of those toys where opening the front reveals tiny details of a home, as well as having more than a passing resemblance to one of those wheels in a hamster’s cage that keeps the pet running, no matter how pointlessly.

It’s about taking responsibility for yourself, a properly occupying your own life, and I found that a surprisingly optimistic message.

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