Review: Broken Arrow Productions present ‘A Doll’s House’

It is perhaps the greatest challenge for any theatrical company, and hence the hallmark of professional groups, to conceive, establish and present a novel, yet apposite, vision for any text, […]

four-stars-220x45It is perhaps the greatest challenge for any theatrical company, and hence the hallmark of professional groups, to conceive, establish and present a novel, yet apposite, vision for any text, let alone one with the complexity and popularity of Henrik Ibsen’s A Doll’s House. Frequently cited as one of the world’s most oft-performed plays, Broken Arrow Productions’ latest venture had its work cut out from the start, but the talented Southampton-based troupe adapted and delivered with what is quickly becoming customary aplomb.

A Doll’s House conveys the struggle of Nora Helmer (Lucy Hughes) in her attempts to secretly placate a desperate blackmailer, Nils Krogstad (James Forster), to prevent the revelation of a prior legal indiscretion. In doing so, Nora begins to explore and grasp her individualism to an extent that she challenges the confines of the 19th century marriage norms conformed to dutifully by egotistic husband Torvald (Oliver Bray), who treats her like little more than an obedient child.

Nora Helmer (Lucy Hughes) and Nils Krogstad (James Forster) on the set of ‘A Doll’s House’. Credit: Alexander Curtis

In this production, director Alexander Curtis has transported such themes into a reimagined, well-conceived and strikingly resounding 1960s setting which adheres to Ibsen’s sentiment brilliantly. Had I not known otherwise beforehand, I could well have been convinced by the production that this era represented the text’s origin, a real testament to the poignancy of the social commentary A Doll’s House successfully realised, and it was this sense of relevance which gave the show a gratifyingly powerful quality.

This was atmospherically augmented through effective use of set, costume and props, all contributing to a highly immersive feel. Sitting as what felt like guests in Nora’s living room, complete with sofa, armchair and carefully-decorated Christmas tree, her domestic plight was all the closer to us as an audience, and hence painstakingly grounded in reality. Such use of space, particularly in terms of the briliantly designed set, was aesthetically impressive yet functional, and magnified the naturalism of the performers’ interactions, although in doing so it occasionally highlighted some instances of blocking which came across as slightly forced.

The text itself was not without its faults either, initially dragging a touch in pace while establishing the backstories of, and relationships between, its characters. As a result, it felt like the cast were taking a bit of time to warm into the performance at first, particularly in the early exchanges between Hughes and Bray which lacked a little nuance. However, this was soon rectified by the suspenseful and well-paced introduction of the alterior motives of Krogstad, Forster delivering an outstanding performance throughout in evoking a fine balance between disgust and sympathy from the audience.

Torvald Helmer (Oliver Bray) is comforted by Nora Helmer (Lucy Hughes). Credit: Alexander Curtis

Likewise, Catherine Tarrant’s measured performance as elderly neighbour Christine Linde, alongside an emphatically dry-humoured Dr Rank (Joseph Curran), supported events well and complemented the efforts of fellow cast members. Bray’s debut with the company perhaps lacked the confidence of the other performers to start with, featuring slightly-too-noticeable line stumbles which unfortunately undermined Torvald’s inherent authority. This was, however, more than atoned for through his chilling emotional rawness in struggling to comprehend Nora’s eventual desire for independence, saliently showcasing Bray’s solid range.

And finally to the anchor of the show. An incredibly complex and multi-dimensional character, Nora was impressively portrayed by Hughes, whose adept, if once or twice shrill, performance was a bundle of natural confidence, energy and ability, exhibiting an accomplished understanding of an iconic role with a superb level of depth and purpose.

Her pivotal and demanding performance will rightfully take many of the plaudits, but in truth this felt like a well-oiled and cohesive cast for the vast majority of A Doll’s House, complementing the excellent attention to thematic detail and culminating in a memorable final scene between Hughes and Bray which, upon the lights going down, delayed audience applause for those glorious few seconds of silence in which shows well and truly sink in.

So nearly a year on from their breathtaking debut with Arthur Miller’s classic The Crucible, Broken Arrow Productions’ phenomenally talented team continue to impress and, with a little more polish (rehearsing around Christmas probably didn’t offer them much time in this regard!), they undoubtedly have the potential to make their mark in a professional capacity.

Through high quality production values and sterling cast performances, A Doll’s House furthers the company’s local reputation as a tour-de-force of engrossing theatrical excellence.