A Doll's House
4 out of 5
If Henrik Ibsen had been around to set A Doll's House in the 1950s, as it is here in Jemima Levick's excellent production, perhaps there would have been no need for Mad Men with its polarised genders and conspicuous consumption. The pre-1960s world this Nora Helmer comes to reject is a chic, modernist place, all white walls, spindly furniture and Bing Crosby on the radio, with clear demarcation of roles for husband and wife: business for him, children for her. As Nora skips in with her big skirt and her Christmas shopping, you get a taste of the consumer boom to come. As she stomps out, leaving her children, you feel the first articulation of feminist revolution.
All this looks stunning on a two-level set by Alex Lowde that lets us see half-a-dozen rooms through skeletal windows, conveying a sense of the life of the house beyond the immediate action. Like the ominous rumble of Jon Beales's sound design, the looming presence of other people – the children at the top of the stairs, the husband in his office – reminds us of the impending tragedy. It makes us see how the schemes Nora dreams up in the living room will affect the whole family; a family framed by the clean lines and cool spaces of each room like figures in an Edward Hopper painting, striking, isolated and trapped in time.
The shift in setting from 1879 is surprisingly seamless, appearing anachronistic only at the height of Torvald Helmer's tirade about the social shame of his wife's unorthodox money-raising methods. For the most part, the play is liberated from its usual period trappings, freeing the actors to be less formal and making the sexual politics less one-sided. This is not a polemic about oppressive men and put-upon women, but a subtle drama in which neither party is guilty.
The complexity extends to the supporting roles. Kevin Lennon's Krogstad starts out weasely and nervous, and ends up merely misunderstood, while Irene Macdougall's Kristine is an austere figure of moral rectitude who, seeing a chance with Krogstad, acts with callous self-interest.
At the heart of the play, Emily Winter's kittenish Nora – all twirls, spins and giggles – and Neil McKinven's affable Torvald establish a warm and genuine relationship that makes their eventual separation seem not of their own making but of social movements beyond their control, a catastrophe equally shared.
Until 6 November. Box office: 01382 223530.
© Mark Fisher 2010
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