July 06, 2017

Compelling update of theatrical staple

A Doll’s House
by Henrik Ibsen
A new adaptation by Elena Carapetis
State Theatre Company
Dunstan Playhouse, Adelaide Festival Centre
July 4. Tickets: $33- $61. Bookings 131 246 or online.
Duration 2hr 40mins including interval.
Until July 22.

Murray Bramwell

“What is really wanted,“ Henrik Ibsen wrote, “is a revolution of the spirit of man.” And, in his most celebrated play, it is a woman, the unlikely hero, Nora Helmer, who wakes from a slumber and proposes a new dawn.

A Doll’s House has challenged audiences since 1879. It has played in 35 languages, in 87 countries. It is still one of the most performed plays ever; a recent study confirms records of 3787 productions. Every time a new version is presented, there is a fresh take on its central preoccupations: about the nature of human nature, and the place of women in male dominated society.

In State Theatre’s brave and compelling production (crisply directed by Geordie Brookman, using an updated text by Elena Carapetis) Nora, the trophy wife of Torvald, a banker, who both dotes on her and condescends to her, is acting out a fantasy of romantic marriage.

Ibsen’s tangled plotlines of past deception and secrecy are
faithfully maintained, but in a world of smartphones, electronic
credit and Haighs chocolates instead of macaroons. The vernacular
is current. At one point Nora says- “I’m a bit of an over-sharer. “ And there are expletives. To me, they jar, as they invariably do in re-jigged Ibsen and Chekhov, wherever they are performed.

The abstract set design, by Geoff Cobham, gives no clue to time or place. His doll house is like an experimental incubator. Rows of enquiring orange lights fill the stage walls on all three sides and the acting space is a square blue dais surrounded by fifteen orange moulded chairs. The actors remain on stage waiting for their cues, and props are mostly non-existent. Ailsa Paterson’s costumes are executive chic, with spangled Superman and other dress-ups for Christmas. Torvald’s Donald Trump mask and fat suit is, perhaps, a topicality too far.

This is the first performance by Brookman’s newly formed six- actor State ensemble, and it is an auspicious one. Dale March’s Torvald is variously indulgent, controlling and menacing – and always uncomfortably familiar. Nathan O’Keefe captures the pathos and bitterness in the doomed Dr Rank, and Rashidi Edward and Rachel Burke are vivid as Krogstad and Kristine. Also notable are Anna Steen as Anna and Clio Tinsley as Nora’s child Emmy.

As Nora, the outstanding Miranda Daughtry ensures the success of the production. She brings vitality and credibility to Carapetis’s modernised matron. We see a convincing transition from guileless unworldliness to steely purpose. Her tarantella – now a bitter lap-dance directed at both Helmer and Rank – and her final reckoning with her husband are powerfully realised. When she walks through the theatre, slamming the door behind her, it is a discomforting conclusion, and a reminder that Ibsen’s penetrating questions still resound with it.

“Compelling update of theatrical staple” The Australian, July 6, 2017, p.14.

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