Review: A Doll’s House

Elena Carapetis’ adaptation of A Doll’s House brings Henrik Ibsen’s immortal classic firmly into the here and now with an impressive performance from State Theatre Company’s new ensemble cast.

Adapting an old text for the present-day is always a challenge but A Doll’s House’s themes of female emancipation, the meritocracy and society tugging at our strings still ring true. Whether it’s Nora and Torvald Helmer’s superficial, failing marriage or the emerging sympathetic side to Nils Krogstad’s dastardly machinations, these feel like stories that happen on a daily basis.

This societal vivisection is strongly heightened by Geoff Cobham’s stripped-back set design and Geordie Brookman’s direction. All players are lit from three sides by massive walls of no less than a few hundred lights, and for the first two acts, the action takes place on a raised, revolving stage, slowly spinning these characters around like a necklace on display in a jeweller’s cabinet, or a luxury car in a dealership. The actors not performing sit to the side, still as figurines waiting to re-enter the domestic fray.

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Ibsen’s original vision is strong in this contemporary staging. The key characters and their arcs all remain intact, while the same structure and flow of dialogue is still there. Yet, it feels new. These characters seem like people we might know and their words are those that we hear every day. Torvald’s (Dale March) diminutive nickname for Nora (Miranda Daughtry), ‘my little songbird’, is now ‘chickadee’, Nora’s profanity of ‘damn!’ becomes ‘fuck this shit!’, her secret indulgence of macaroons are now scorched almonds and that comforting Norwegian fireplace is now a wall-mounted air conditioner.

It certainly feels more real for the audience, too, who react knowingly to the bubbling strife onstage. Aside from the well-timed comic relief between Dr Rank (the always affable Nathan O’Keefe) and the innocent child Emmy Helmer (an adorable Clio Tinsley), Torvald’s sexist remarks draw rippling laughter from the crowd. Whether this laughter is drawn from genuine amusement and agreement with his sentiments or knowing frustration at his naiveté is up for debate, but this reviewer suspects it is a bit of both from a diverse crowd.

It must be said that while A Doll’s House has been effectively transported to a modern setting, there are aspects of the original text that do linger, slightly out of place. For example, the characters retaining their 19th century Norwegian names feels distinctly wrong if we are to presume this action takes place in cosmopolitan Australia.

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This new ensemble cast will be a fascinating one to watch over their next few productions. Here their performances are strong across the board, but particular credit goes to Miranda Daughtry and Rashidi Edward (Krogstad) for their navigation of complex characters. Daughtry assumes the iconic role of Nora with deft confidence and nuance. Her transition from ‘baby doll’ to ‘feminazi’, as Torvald might say, comes in stages, and she widens the cracks in Nora’s blissful domestic veneer with slow determination. Edward, who has the unenviable task of playing a villain, victim and outsider, brings impressive pathos to the tortured Krogstad, drawing sympathy from a crowd tuned to relate more strongly with the Helmer family than anyone else.

This production of A Doll’s House raises many questions, including and beyond the central struggle for female emancipation, but more than any other, the audience leaves asking, if these things still feel true more than 100 years on, will anything ever change?

A Doll’s House continues at the Dunstan Playhouse until Saturday, July 22

Photography: Andy Rasheed

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