Written by Henrik Ibsen Performed at The Stables, Hastings. 9-17 March.
Director: Sandra Tomlinson Review by Hugh Bryant

What with the price of houses on the south coast, A Doll’s House seemed a good bet. Set in Norway, it was very enjoyable, worth every pfennig and very affordable. I saw the Sunday matinee and it was a shame it was only half full. However, it was Mothering Sunday and maybe the story of Nora, the young mother leaving the family home and three young children, wasn’t quite what was required.

Set in the times of King Oscar II of Norway, the play shocked the western world as (Victorian) women were supposed to be inferior and had no free will in a male dominated world. Ibsen was no particular feminist, yet he believed in individual freedom. Nora was his Everyman.

The cast were excellent, with Ellie Tipping playing the child-like, flawed heroine, Nora Helmer, who is married to control freak Torvald Helmer, a banker. Nora had saved his life by taking it upon herself to deceive the bank – and her husband – into authorising a loan to enable Torvald to convalesce abroad several years before. Only Nils Krogstad (played by Mike Stoneham) knows this and is blackmailing Nora into getting his job back.

Ellie is terrific, starting off as Torvald’s plaything or ‘squirrel’ before an epiphany where she sees clearly what has been happening and renounces her previous life as a toy for Torvald. Two emotionally electric scenes were especially effective. The first was Nora with an old admirer, the congenitally syphilitic Doctor Rank, played impressively by Dominic Campbell.

This was followed by a meeting between Nora and Krogstad. Mike Stoneham, a few whiskers away from becoming the stage villain, was very watchable. Nora’s emotional gear changes were expertly handled by Ellie. The tarantella that she has to dance near the end was good enough, given the gold acting stars she had acquired before.

David Drey gave a polished performance as the controlling husband. I would like to have seen a hint of the spite and naarstiness that was convincingly demonstrated later. Torvald even told the women how to do embroidery and knitting – an early example of ‘mansplaining’ from Ibsen. Jackie Eichler as Nora’s friend gave good support along with Janet McCarter and Cleo Veness.

Special mentions include the young sons, Toby Mocrei and James Greenhall, who made their entrances and exits assuredly, delivered their lines clearly and did not bump into any furniture.

Also mentioned in dispatches: Peter Mould, who did his usual fine job for the programme photographs, and the construction crew who made the splendid set.

The translation of Ibsen is by Simon Stephens and his wording can be too modern at times, making the dialogue ‘soapy’ and glib at important emotional moments.

One other moan. Nora exits into her brave new world with a slamming of the front door. ‘The reverberations were heard throughout the western world’, it was reported. Even England came nearer the ‘Grand Slam’ that we were waiting for.

 

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