Review: A Doll’s House

Gemma Sheehan 30 November 2016

Ibsen’s A Doll’s House was controversial when it first premiered over a hundred years ago. Considered one of the first proto-feminist plays and daring to depict marriage in a critical manner, it is famous for its realism and close psychological attention to main character Nora, an infantilised wife trapped within a domestic ‘doll’s house’. And that is where this production works well: Hollie Witton as Nora is a delight from the moment she first enters the stage, subtly conveying pent up frustrations and hurt over married life whilst at the same time capturing perfectly the childlike joy Nora exhibits. It is this solid performance which carries the production through some of its shakier aspects to an overall emphatic conclusion.

The intricate set of this production was apparent upon entering the theatre: photo frames; a Christmas tree with ornaments; even a bird in a cage on the desk of Nora's husband (Todd Gillespie) (perhaps a little heavy handed, but aesthetically pleasing) transported the audience into Nora's world, in a way that was at once enchanting and mildly claustrophobic. It was apparent that in this production, where human drama is condensed into a single room of a single house, details mattered.

The acting was the largest barrier to the production. Hollie Witton was excellent as Nora, and was contrasted nicely by the steady seriousness of Mrs Linde (Ruby Morris). However, some of those she played against were a bit wooden. This wasn’t helped by the persistent fluffing of lines by one character, which drew some of the more intimate scenes out into awkwardness. This might have been a larger issue if the play was not so closely centred on Nora’s psychological complexity; but as it was, there were some incredibly touching scenes. Nora and Dr Rank’s (Max Harrison) understated yet honest discussion was a highlight, with both actors playing off each other excellently to navigate the weight of the unsaid. Katie Wood’s decision as director to draw out the comic elements of Nora, particularly in contrast to Mrs Linde, worked well to emphasise both Nora’s endearing good intentions and almost painful naivety.

There were a few technical issues – the lighting choices felt a bit weird, and the music for the tarantella stopped a bit too abrubtly for the scene it was a part of, especially as in-universe there was no reason for it to do so. Yet the addition of sound was good in general, and really worked in the background at the beginning of the scene involving Mrs Linde and Krogstad (Noah Geelan), and in Nora's frenzied tarantella in the first act. 

Understated and subtle, Woods does a good job of creating and building tension, and by the end of the performance the audience feels at one with Nora in craving a release. A couple of technicalities could be tightened here and there, but overall this is a charming production with some very strong aspects.