Review: A Doll’s House

Laura Peatman 25 April 2012

A Doll’s House

Corpus Playroom Lateshow, 9.30pm, until 28 April


Forgive me, cast and crew, if I am merely being thick. But I’m afraid I just didn’t get the point of this production. Based on the plot, characters and themes of Ibsen’s great work, Rosie Robson’s ‘A Doll’s House’ did away with that essential part of the play: the lines. Instead, a cast of six worked through the plot by improvising each scene around the framework of Ibsen’s script, supposedly using props from the audience, although these made little to no impact.

Unfortunately, in losing Ibsen’s words, nothing was gained. It was a risky endeavour to replace the script with the cast’s own words, and what emerged did not feel worth the loss of Ibsen’s powerful prose. Particularly early on, there were some uncomfortable pauses, or moments when the actors spoke across each other; small plot errors inevitably crept in, notably Christine (last night, Freddie Poulton – the casting is decided each night by the toss of a coin) declaring she would fetch Krogstad’s letter back – a letter which both the audience and Nora (Claudia Grigg-Edo) had seen him put into Torvald’s briefcase onstage moments before. James Ellis gave the strongest performance, adapting the best to improvisation, yet I could see little of Ibsen’s Torvald in his characterisation for the majority of the play. Rather than treating Nora like the ‘Doll’ of the play’s title, this Torvald seemed more interested in his wife as a sexual toy, rather than a childish one. Having said this, this dynamic proved effective in playing the climactic scene in which his anger and sexual desire nearly drives him to attack his wife – this provided a rare moment of palpable tension and emotion.

For the most part however, affective emotion was lacking as it felt as if the actors were thinking too hard about what to say, rather than how to say it. Grigg-Edo’s repeated “Oh my God!” did not adequately portray Nora’s distress, and she resorted to high-pitched squealing and simpering to show the childishness of her character: Torvald’s assertion that she was ‘more like a crazy bird than a songbird’ seemed apt. This shallowness was effective in the earlier scenes, but made her hinted-at contemplation of suicide and her eventual decision to leave Torvald appear unlikely. Furthermore, this production was incongruously funny: with innuendo emerging in bucketfuls, the audience became rather giggly. This is not to say I didn’t appreciate some humour: even Grigg-Edo couldn’t help laughing at Ellis’ declaration of “I thought I told you to put away my dolls after I’ve used them for a metaphor!”. But there should be much more to this play than comedy.

The modern updates to the setting and plot were successful: Torvald’s position as a banker and his constant use of laptop and Blackberry showed that this play could work just as well in the 21st century as in the 19th. Given that the most fluid moments were those at which the cast were closest to the script, a modernised version of ‘A Doll’s House’ would have proved far more successful than this attempt at improvised Ibsen. I applaud the bravery and creativity of the idea behind the production – yet, overall, it was a flawed idea that would never produce the quality of drama of which this cast are obviously capable.

Laura Peatman