A Doll's House
Henrik Ibsen, adapted by Bryony Lavery
Library Theatre Company
The Lowry, Salford
Library Theatre Company is opening the year with a production with a surprisingly modern, English feel of Ibsen's A Doll's House, adapted by Bryony Lavery from a literal translation for Birmingham Rep in 2004.
Designer Judith Croft has provided an authentic-looking Victorian drawing room with walls on three sides, but surrounding it are three huge grey walls with tiny windows at the top, giving the illusion of a comfortable house trapped within a prison.
Inside this cell, Nora Helmer celebrates her husband Torvald's lucrative promotion to director of the bank, partly because of a loan that she took out in dubious circumstances, unbeknown to Torvald who is afraid of any type of scandal, in order to take her husband south a few years ago when he was dangerously ill. However Krogstad, from whom she borrowed the money, threatens to expose her secret to her husband if she doesn't persuade Torvald to keep him on in his job in the bank.
Emma Cunniffe's Nora isn't the silly little girl at the start that she is usually portrayed as. She is perfectly believable as a modern woman who is a little naive, albeit in the political and social situation of more than a century ago. This makes her transformation at the end rather more subtle and less striking, but it still works and makes sense. As a whole, she gives a great performance that brings a great deal of truth to her joy and anxieties and even some comedy, especially her ecstatic enjoyment of macaroons.
Ken Bradshaw's Torvald isn't at all the stuffy Victorian even if his attitudes belong to that era, and though some of his pet names and his opinions are quite excruciating, theirs is a perfectly believable relationship with apparent affection and a natural easiness and playfulness in one another's company.
Paul Barnhill finds the humanity in Krogstad, a character that could easily become a melodramatic villain, and Sarah Ball gives a perfectly-measured performance as Nora's friend Mrs Linde who has fallen on hard times and has come looking for a job. Only Daniel Brocklebank doesn't quite manage to convince as Dr Rank, coming across as a young person trying to play someone old and ill and looking rather false and stagey in comparison to the rest.
Composer Gary Yershon adds some simple bass notes in the background of some scenes that effectively add to the tension, but the music that is supposed to come from the party later on sounds a little synthesised.
Apart from a rather early interval and an ending with the famous door slam that was a little clumsy, Chris Honer's production is slick and polished and feels very fresh and vibrant, despite the play's age and the seriousness of its story.
Running until 12 March 2011
Reviewer: David Chadderton