A review by Vanessa Bunn for EXTRA! EXTRA!



Space productions presents


A Doll's House


by Henrick Ibsen


Directed by Alex Crampton


Arcola Theatre


29 June-30 July 2011



Nora Helmer (Gina Abolins), the naïve heroine of this Ibsen classic, sleeps on the floor of a studio that has taken on the feel of a life-sized doll’s house as the audience gather around her on the way to their seats. Irina Borisova and Emma Thatcher have designed an incredibly attractive, inventive and provocative set. Dreamlike and haunting, it serves to represent Nora's inner consciousness. Cakes, frames and fragile trinkets hang from delicate strings, suspended over the action as though on the point of collapsing into it at any given moment. The innocent and tentative atmosphere that this invokes is juxtaposed with jarring sound effects and precisely timed lighting to form an altogether disconcerting opening impression which is maintained throughout the production.

Dominic Golding portrays an unbearable Torvald Helmer - Nora's husband and recently promoted bank manager, with great success. His interactions with the other characters are more accurately transactions, wherein he answers his own questions and proffers mortifying opinions and directions. The lines about which Helmer is most earnest are the ones which illicit the most laughter from the audience. When Nils Krogstad (Alexander Gatehouse), a money-lender and generally shady character takes to the stage, one imagines his villainy might overwhelm Helmer's but it does not. In this production Helmer is the true villain throughout, not only wholly self-absorbed, but manipulative and sleazy with it.

The inclusion of a female chorus or “three Noras” (Elisa King, Chloë Lewis and Maria Toledo) representing the past, present and future, as well as maids and nannies, provide some very effective dramatic devices. For example, Nora's children are brought to life through puppetry, even the baby of the house, represented by a mere bundled up blanket is an unmistakable presence in this clever performance. The disjointed and haunting voices attributed to the other two children form an intrinsic part of Nora's psychological portrait as played out on stage. The Noras' fairy-like appearance in neutral-coloured attire cements their supposedly invisible status and keeps them separate from the central dramatic action while allowing them to intercept it.  Their understated attire contrasts with the garishness of Nora's dress for a Tarantella dance which she performs toward the end of the play. She literally becomes, before the audience's eyes, the very “little songbird” that Torvald imagines her as throughout, complete with a tuft of feathers adorning the side of her head.

Doctor Rank (Tim Blackwell), family friend and bringer of perpetual gloom, manages some comic inputs through his dry wit and acerbic remarks while the deterioration of his health provides a counterpoint for Nora's mental deterioration as the play progresses. Emma Deegan's Kristine Linde is a notably prevalent force in this production. As well as acting as a motherly figure for Nora, she is also incredibly self-possessed and assertive. This side of her character is most obvious in her relations with Krogstad and the chemistry between Gatehouse and Deegan's characters provides some of the tensest drama in this production.

Lighting, by Anna Sbokou is precise and patently symbolic in relation to Nora's mood as the action progresses. Like most of the technical elements in this production the lighting centres around her emotional and psychological states. This effect culminates at the end of the play when the passage towards the exit becomes progressively brighter. The music, directed and composed by Andrew Venning, is well arranged and suitably jarring, and soothing at intervals.  Opening at an almost screech which it reverts to at scenes of high drama, the music forms a constitutional part of the atmosphere at Space Production's version of this Ibsen classic.

 This is a precise, surreal, Nora-centric take on A Doll's House with a consistently strong cast who successfully embrace and convey the varied issues that the play raises, from sexual inequality, to moralistic hyperbole and the pursuit of happiness. Torvald Helmer's insistence upon “no chirruping out of tune” is undermined by the production itself which places an unapologetic focus on the psychological life of its heroine, with insightful results.


Box Office: 020 7503 1646
Arcola Theatre
24 Ashwin Street, Dalston, London, E8 3DL
Tickets: £15/£11 (conc)

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