Saturday, 26 February 2011

A Doll's House - Manchester Library Company at The Lowry, Salford

Writer: Henrik Ibsen
Adaptor: Bryony Lavery
Director: Chris Honer
Reviewer: Poppy Helm

Often regarded as one of the very first feminist plays, Henrik Ibsen's A Doll's House was truly controversial in it's time. Although the subject matter has certainly lost it's sensationalism in the intervening years, the Library Theatre Company's current production still packs a punch for the modern audience.

On the surface, Nora appears to enjoy a comfortable life with her husband, Torvald, and their three children. However, the reappearance of her childhood friend prompts a confession about the measures she has taken to protect this cosy existence. As the full social and moral implications of her actions become clear, and the threat of discovery looms, she is forced into making a life-changing decision: whether to honour her marital obligations or to pursue a greater duty to herself.

In keeping with the naturalistic style of theatre (of which A Dolls House was also a forerunner), the stage is transformed into a lavishly furnished living room, complete with wood burning stove and piano. This attention to detail in the set makes it easy for the audience to adopt the role of 'fourth wall' to the room and believe they are observing someone else's house.

The first act progresses at a reasonably relaxed pace, gradually revealing the back story and introducing us to the relationships between the characters. Nora (Emma Cunniffe) is naïve and insensitive, deliberately playing the child to the paternal yet patronising Torvald (Ken Bradshaw), while Paul Barnhill's Krogstad evokes both sympathy and disdain in equal measures. Tension builds throughout the second act as Cunniffe skillfully shifts between Nora's increasing agitation and the cheery facade she presents to her husband. Bradshaw's outburst in the final scene is intense, and a stark contrast to the lighthearted Torvald we've seen earlier. The chemistry between the two lead actors is clear, and although admiring of Nora's courage in leaving to find herself, we also feel a certain empathy for a clueless yet likeable Torvald.

Whilst nineteenth century drama may not be to everyone's tastes, this landmark play carries a contemporary message that is executed with emotion and passion. It may have been ahead of it's time when first published, but don't miss the opportunity to see it now.

Runs at the Lowry until 12th March 2011
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