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A Doll's House

Henrik Ibsen, in a version by Zinnie Harris
National Theatre of Scotland
Royal Lyceum Theatre Edinburgh

Amy Manson and Hywel Simons Credit: Richard Campbell
Amy Manson and Kevin McMonagle Credit: Richard Campbell
Amy Manson and Lucianne McEvoy Credit: Richard Campbell

When lovers of theatre hear the words “Henrik Ibsen” many shudder at the thought of the weighty storylines and deep emotional conquests within his plays. However, Zinnie Harris’s new version of A Doll’s House, being performed at The Royal Lyceum Theatre in Edinburgh, is much more palatable yet still holds onto the grit and hard-hitting undertones that Ibsen’s original text is famous for.

From the moment you step into the auditorium, the sense of entering a doll's house could not be more realistic with Robert Innes Hopkins excelling himself in the creation of an extremely true-to-life Victorian mansion on stage. The sound of a piano acts almost like a music-box and adds greatly to the ambiance of the piece.

A Doll’s House portrays the emotional unravelling of Cabinet Minister’s wife Nora Vaughn. To her husband Thomas (the part of Torvald in the original text) she is seen as a childish and simple young woman but behind his back she is quite the opposite in character. Involving herself in fraud, she has made all of the wrong decisions for only the correct reasons but when a disgraced politician appears on the scene the deceit grows much deeper and there is only so much more lying that can go on before everything comes spilling out into the open.

The acting in the piece, in the most part, is second to none. Kevin McMonagle as Dr Rank and Hywel Simons interpretation of Thomas Vaughn are both incredibly strong, embedding humour into a serious play at all the right moments and emoting the script just perfectly to have the audience hanging onto every word. Amy Manson’s Nora is a powerful depiction that grows steadily from her first appearance until the controversial final scene where she stands head and shoulders above the other actors. She very much puts her male counterparts in their place within the storyline and as performers on the stage.

However, Brian McCardie as Neil Kelman (or Krogstad in Ibsen’s original) cannot be showered with the same compliments. His coarse characterisation of the much-hated politician drowning in controversy reminds me all too well of the Glasgow Member of Parliament George Galloway. His fidgety manner and little change in emotion is nowhere near as captivating as that of the others on stage and as he gets down on his knees to beg, Galloway’s Big Brother cat skit with Rula Lenska could not have been clearer in my mind.

As is expected, the retelling of this story is laced with the power struggles faced by women in society, not only in the Victorian era but nowadays also. However, it is interwoven so beautifully into this young lady’s story, that the show can be enjoyed as a fantastic spectacle and not just a campaign on women’s rights.

The clever use of levels and lighting in the performance should also be noted, along with some inspired directorial decisions by Graham McLaren. Overall A Doll’s House at The Royal Lyceum Theatre is engrossing, intelligent and entertaining while never veering too far from Ibsen’s original ideology.

Reviewer: Liam Blain