A Doll's House - Nora

Henrik Ibsen
Babican Theatre
(2004)

At its very best, the BITE seasons offer London something that it would never otherwise get - a unique chance to see the work of the finest theatre practitioners in the world.

A year ago, Calixto Bieito produced a modern Macbeth that, depending upon taste, was either some of the most exciting theatre of the year, or an outrage.

Now German wunderkind Thomas Ostermeier has brought over his Berlin production of A Doll's House. Once again, it is likely that opinions will be polarised. He has taken amazing liberties with the script and in particular, his ending is something that might make the playwright turn in his grave.

Not only is Ostermeier one of the best of his generation but his leading lady, Nora, is played by Anne Tismer who gives her all in a breathtaking performance that leaves her shaking at the curtain-call.

From the moment that the lights come up on Jan Pappelbaum's ultra-modern house complete with integral aquarium, the tone is set. The pace does not lessen for two-and-a-quarter hours and particularly in normally staid interludes between acts and scenes, it can accelerate madly.

Two of the major highlights of the production are a strobe-lit slow-motion shoot-out between adults and children and Nora's manic dance. Music is important to Ostermeier and these scenes highlight it, using industrial hardcore and rap at full volume.

In productions of this type, there is a danger that the auteur/director will take things over to such an extent that the playwright is forgotten and character is lost amid the fireworks. This director is too canny for that and with the single exception of an overly kooky Krogstad, his characters are all too real and recognisable.

The modernisation means that Lars Eidinger's doctor is a louche young man with long hair whose death is the result of Aids. While Helmer is still a bank manager, he is addicted to gadgets, constantly playing with mobile phones and computers. The others remain closer to the original, although it is perhaps inevitable that the housemaid has by the 21st century metamorphosed into an au pair.

The central character in this case though is definitively the heroine, Nora, who at times seems like a reincarnation of Lady Macbeth. Anne Tismer makes her incredibly sexy, even before she puts on her Lara Croft outfit; and a character that was an overt feminist in the 1870s becomes a radical one today.

Thomas Ostermeier has succeeded in creating an updated version of A Doll's House that both remains faithful to the original in most ways and presents an entirely modern slant and fresh vision. People may hate it but one suspects that this will not worry the director one iota. people are far more are likely to be talking about it for months and comparing many subsequent theatre visits unfavourably.

This is likely to prove one of the theatrical highlights of the year and it is just a shame that its only British performances are over these five days at the Barbican.

Reviewer: Philip Fisher