Published in the Guardian
Royal Lyceum, Edinburgh
The macaroons devoured by Nora Helmer in Ibsen's proto-feminist classic normally symbolise her infantilism. They are a childish indulgence, cute and frivolous, for a woman not expected to grow up. It's a different story in Zinnie Harris's version, first seen at the Donmar Warehouse in 2009, in which the biscuits are less a treat than an addict's escape route. "You're supposed to be my supplier," she snaps at her friend Christine when her fix runs out.
As the renamed Nora Vaughan in this National Theatre of Scotland co-production, Amy Manson is no little-girl-lost but the social and sexual equal of her husband, recast as an equitable Edwardian politician and played with suave authority by Hywel Simons. Her problem is not naivety but being trapped with a man who values his career and public standing more highly than her right to self-expression. The macaroons are a safety valve to stop her exploding with frustration.
It's an interpretation that denies us Nora's consciousness-raising journey towards self-realisation, but offers instead a subtle account of a marriage between two adults of equal maturity and unequal status. Manson deflects every effort to patronise Nora; she is vivacious but never girlish. At the same time, hers is an emotionally fluid performance that switches from laughter to tears by the line. At one point she grabs her face to hold a smile in place, only for her features to melt into misery beneath her fingers. When finally she leaves, we don't doubt this passionate woman will flourish.
Without being radical, Graham McLaren's production, with its elegant Georgian set by Robert Innes Hopkins, makes some forthright moves, showing us not only the erotic charge that galvanises the central couple, but also, in Brian McCardie's ferocious Neil Kelman (Ibsen's Krogstad), a political reptile worthy of The Thick of It.
Until 4 May (0131 248 4848). Details: www.lyceum.org.uk