A Doll's House

Henrik Ibsen
Elysium Theatre Company
The Exchange, North Shields

Michael Blair and Heather Carroll
Hannah Ellis Ryan

It’s a century and half since the première of Ibsen’s great play, but such is the impact and the relevance its powerful writing can evoke, we’re hard put to place it in the same time span as, say, the Zulu wars.

In many ways, A Doll’s House marked the birth of modern drama, an iconoclastic piece of theatre which shook the very marital foundations of our society.

A woman walking out on not only her husband, but three young children? Just packing a bag, out the door and gone? Even now, the verdict’s out between those who see it as an heroic gesture against the patriarchal society’s suffocations of marriage and others for whom it marks an abandonment of a woman’s responsibility (i.e. her children). Basically, should Nora have taken the kids out that door with her?

And what on earth will happen to them now, in the hands of such self-satisfied, delusional father?

This Elysium Theatre production is the company’s eighth since they arrived on the North-East theatre scene seven years ago.

In that time, from their base at the Queens Hall, Hexham, they’ve tackled the work of such heavyweights as Beckett, Fugard and Strindberg so there seems little risk of parochialism and I can’t think of another company from this region with such international ambitions, with maybe the exception of Theatre Sans Frontieres.

The translation by Michael Meyer sees Hannah Ellis Ryan in the part of Nora with Danny Solomon as her successful banker husband Torvald—one of the few actors I know who can also boast of being a tree surgeon.

Michael Blair is Krogstad, the bank employee whose revelations and blackmail undermine the very foundations of this marriage and further damage is unwittingly wrought via Christine, Nora’s returning old friend, played by Heather Carroll. Robin Kingsland as the family doctor and friend Doctor Rank manages to turn the screw even more with his revelations and confessions.

In the hands of a second-rate writer, this could all be melodrama. Not so with Ibsen.

The unravelling of the relationship is agonising to watch.The seemingly idyllic nature of the marriage slowly and painfully crumbles before our eyes as its illusions are stripped away by events.

The action is played out on Louis Price’s expansive domestic set, a large Victorian drawing room which curiously is all-white, not a colour I associate that much with Victoriana. It must also be a nightmare to lug around a North-East tour of mainly one-night stands.

The focus in this production is as much on Torvald as Nora, partly because Danny Solomon has the best projection (you have problems hearing some of the dialogue), also because he animates his role in a production which at times can seem a bit static. But A Doll’s House is so well plotted and structured that most wise directors stand back and let it speak for itself, which Jake Murray mainly does here.

By the way, we’ve all experienced in a theatre that dreadful ringing sound after some idiot forgets to switch off their mobile phone. It happened last night mid-play at The Exchange. The trouble is, the phone was mine.

Reviewer: Peter Mortimer

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