A Doll’s House

AMI JONES isn’t sure there’s much point in reviewing this, but she did it for you anyway.

a doll's house Ami Jones clausia grigg-edo Corpus Playroom Drama Ibsen Improv Improvised james ellis Rosie Robson Theatre

Corpus Playroom, 24th-28th April, 7pm, £5-6

Directed by Rosie Robson

[rating: 3/5]

I have literally no way of telling you how the next four performances of A Doll’s House are going to go. So kudos to the cast and crew for actually trumping the entire concept of a review for the first time.

Kudos is deserved as well for the sheer balls behind the concept: Ibsen’s classic play performed over five nights with no lines memorised, the casting decided by a few coin tosses moments before opening every show, and props provided by audience members. We’re only students once (some unlucky ones twice) and this is our chance to do crrrrazy things in theatre.

It’s just, well… I would’ve liked a bit crazier. Yes, it does take balls to do something like that, but it would’ve been nice to have full-blown cojones. Or maybe just some clarity of vision. It was interesting but that’s not quite enough. Why put on an improvised production of a late 19th-century realist Norwegian play?

The actors didn’t seem like they’d’ve been able to answer my question. They were clearly having the time of their lives on stage, which is always nice to see, but I couldn’t avoid a creeping suspicion that they were having far more fun than the audience. I was in the uncomfortable position of not being sure what response I was supposed to give. I didn’t know whether this was supposed to be improvisation a la Whose Line is it Anyway? or a sincere theatrical experiment. And neither, I suspect, did the cast and crew. The result was that moments of heightened drama and moments of genuine comedy, rather than complimenting each other, simply clashed confusingly.

James Ellis (who played Torvald last night) is capable of being a funny actor off the cuff, and boy does he know it. He managed to get the audience giggling within the first few minutes, and then he was off – goofing it up for all the laughs he could get. Meanwhile Claudia Grigg-Edo managed to bring some nice moments of pathos as Nora, and was fully immersed in carrying the story down the path it needed to go down while squeezing in as much characterisation as one can while making things up on the go.

And there was nothing wrong in any of this – except that it just didn’t work together. The result was that were moments where the shock of watching a character about to be raped was combined with the nasty discomfort of knowing that moments ago we’d been laughing at the comedy-advances of a comedy-lech who was now suddenly about to freaking rape someone.

To add to my confusion, there was a keyboardist in the corner doing improvisation of his own throughout, playing bits of incidental music as it went along. And yes, he was very good, but I don’t really know what he was doing there. The technicians apparently decided they wanted to be part of the improv as well, so the lights kept dimming and brightening in the middle of scenes for no apparent reason.

I suspect that originally this was an earnest attempt to create interesting drama, and while I admire the challenge this production set itself, it didn’t quite meet it. There’s a reason that improv is nearly always a technique used to generate comedy – Ibsen’s delicate, finely-tuned script and characters were replaced by ham-fisted themes and caricatures. And of course they were – these guys were making it up on the spot, after all.

I can sit here and riddle as many holes as I like, but at the end of the day I return to my original point. This production is brave and interesting. I urge you to see it – if only because it’s a breath of fresh air to find people willing to take risks like this.