Review: A Doll’s House
Ibsen’s 1879 classic, retold on the Cambridge stage.
Henrik Ibsen’s play ‘A Doll’s House’ tells the story of Nora Helmer and her husband Torvald, and the events that occur over one Christmas period, that eventually leave Nora facing a glaring ultimatum: to conform to convention, or strike out on her own and find happiness.
Exploring themes such as individuality, knowledge of the self, and striving to find a place in the world, Ibsen’s play can be described as the accidentally feminist antidote to much of the misogynistic writing of the time, and while he did not originally intend his play to be such a scandal of gender politics, it is now remembered as one of the most ground-breaking pieces of theatre of its time.
The Heywood Society’s production of A Doll’s House, directed by Sophie Carlin and Rishi Sharma, was a beautifully naturalistic rendition of Ibsen’s realist play. The set (Ibrahim Ahmed) was well-designed – warm and claustrophobic – and reminiscent of a Christmas all-too-strained by family matters. While some scene transitions were rather slow, the enclosure of Nora herself was highlighted nicely in her moving from sofa to chair and back to sofa again without ever straying from the four corners of the room in which the play is set, and was perfectly finished off with the hazy light (artfully designed by Jacob Gaskell and Philip Al-Taiee) that dimmed and darkened until it too trapped her in a circle of gloom.
Nora herself was played by Dominika Wiatrowska, with a frenetic madness and nervous energy that translated well to stage and acted as a perfect antithesis to Joe Wolffe’s cold and uncaring Torvald. Both actors tackled their challenging roles well, and although at times some dialogue felt rushed and was perhaps lost to the auditorium, each actor conveyed the worries of their character with ease and skill. Supporting roles were also filled well by Sarah George, Honour de Pledge, and Carolina Orozco, playing Mrs Linde, Helen, and Krogstad respectively, adding a grounding touch of reality to a play that occurs within the mind of the protagonist and the same four walls for the entirety of its run time.
Special mention must also be given to Rishi Sharma who stepped in last minute as the friendly yet overbearing Dr Rank, who added a sprinkling of much-needed humour to an otherwise dark play.
While overall a solid performance, the play did not seem to do anything new with the text; set in a vaguely turn-of-the-century townhouse, the performance stuck closely to the realism of the original play, and it would have been refreshing to see something new and exciting done with what is actually a very transferable text. Yet despite this minor qualm, the performance was a competent retelling of Ibsen’s classic, delving into the psyche of the trapped woman and presenting the nuances of her situation as a portrait of her life, rather than a list of her mistakes.
Featured image credits: Emily Shen