I can perfectly well understand why Hattie Morahan received the Evening Standard Best Actress Award for her portrayal of Nora Helmer in Simon Stephen’s electrifying English Language Version of A Doll’s House, which, after two sell-out runs at The Young Vic has transferred to The Duke of York’s Theatre. One is transfixed watching her transform from the skittish, child-like captive little bird into a young woman determined to escape the confines of her husband, Torvald’s, claustrophobic grasp.
Carrie Cracknell’s production of this Ibsen classic is powerful, thrilling and, at times, even humorous and gives more of an understanding as to why Nora finally slams the door on her family. The revolving set, designed by Ian Macneil, is very clever, as it conveys perfectly the dolls house of the title. Like a fly on the wall we’re privy to the comings and goings in every room, including a touching game of hide and seek between Nora and her two sons. We’re aware of life going on within the house beyond the scenes we see. Another masterful addition is seeing Nora cuddling her youngest child, a baby daughter. I’ve never seen that young a member of the cast in previous productions but it helps to make the ending even more shocking. Is there a chance that Nora, on realizing what she’s left behind, will eventually return to her family, but on decidedly more equal terms with her husband?
Although the evening belongs to Morahan, Dominic Rowan is excellent as Torvald. He starts off as the besotted, if possessive and patronising husband, indulging his “little chaffinch”. But give him a drink or three and he turns into an unpleasant lecher, who regards the wife he totally misunderstands, as his property. So self centred, he is totally unaware of where he’s going wrong.
Ibsen’s plays often, if not always, centre around underhand financial goings on and A Dolls House is no exception. In this instance, Nora has forged a signature in order to get a loan to help Torvald through a period of ill health. The one time that she asserts herself and it all goes belly up, because the lender, Nils Krogstad, creepily played by Nick Fletcher, threatens to reveal all if she doesn’t pay up forthwith. Oh what a web we weave ….. and the worry of it all, explains her frantic dancing of the tarantella, leaving us in no doubt at the end of Act 1 that this Nora is spinning out of control.
There is also strong support from Nora’s friend, Elise, played by Mary Drake and although Steve Toussaint is believable as the besotted Dr Rank, his size is rather at odds with the set. If he were an actual doll in that revolving dolls house, he would always need to be seated. He is very, very tall!
The explosive, final scene is exemplary. When Torvald’s true colours are revealed, Morahan drops the wheedling, childish voice and takes on the tone of an adult. Bravo, Nora we feel like saying, you can escape from your bird cage.
This definitive version may last three hours but there is not one minute that drags. I wouldn’t have missed it for the world.