A DOLL’S HOUSE
by Henrik Ibsen
Arcola Theatre (Arcola 2) 24 Ashwin Street E8 3DL To 30 July 2011.
Runs 2hr 15min One interval.
TICKETS: 020 7503 1646.
Review: Timothy Ramsden 2 July.
Interior design of a heroine comes up trumps.
In the ever-expanding suburb of English Doll’s Houses, Alex Crampton’s for Space Productions finds its own avenue. A cul de sac, rather than a through-route, for imitations will hardly have the inventive freshness of this, first seen in east London during 2009.
With the possible exception of Alexander Gatehouse’s Krogstad, for once played with attractive openness of manner, the men are less impressive than the women. And, while Emma Deegan gives a decent account of Nora’s old schoolfriend fallen on hard times, the strongest performance is undoubtedly Gina Abolins’ Nora, the supposedly happy housewife and mother whose daily life skates over a mass of tensions and whose existence is torn apart one Christmas.
Yet Crampton’s strongest card is the invasion of Ibsen’s realism by three ‘Norns’; young women who accompany Nora, expressing her inward feelings and half-realised tensions. They’re around the stage at the start, one sitting petrified in Nora’s private room, one discarded in her husband’s office, the third standing in the living-room, looking around.
Their stated aspects Past, Present and Future seem less important than the way they constitute Nora’s being. They start by unrolling her from sheets on the floor, cower in a group when confident husband Torvald appears, troop in like personal Erinyes behind Nora as she returns from the party upstairs, before she finally escapes them as they remain behind, lined-up against her shocked husband.
Elsewhere, they express fear, strain and shock, with alarmed eyes, tensed features and curled-up postures; only one, occasionally, suggests hope.
Occasionally too, one becomes a servant, while a couple manipulate the blank-featured, soft-fabric puppets representing Nora’s children. Running around, demanding in high-pitched voices that mummy plays games with them, fighting behind her back, they catch the essence of carefree childishness better than humans performers could reasonably do.
Many great performers have played Nora; Abolins, of course, can’t match them all. And the final section, as she moves to the white light representing the open door, needs more directorial detail. But her performance, with the multiple levels of consciousness on show, makes the transition from songbird-wife to independent woman unusually convincing.
Nora Helmer: Gina Abolins.
Doctor Rank: Tim Blackwell.
Kristine Linde: Emma Deegan.
Nils Krogstad: Alexander Gatehouse.
Torvald Helmer: Dominik Golding.
Norn Future: Elisa King.
Norn Past: Chloë Lewis.
Norn Present: Maria Toledo.
Director: Alex Crampton.
Designer: Irina Borisova, Emma Thatcher.
Lighting: Anna Sbokou.
Sound: Arnulf Lindner.
Composer/Music Director: Andrew Venning.
Choreographer: Anna Melander.
Costume: Vasiliki Sirma.
Dramaturg: Mari Rettedal-Westlake.
Associate director: Emma Sampson.
Assistant director: Hugo Carosa.