Wednesday, 31 October 2007

A Dollhouse, VCA, Oct 31, 2007

A Dollhouse
by Henrik Ibsen, by VCA Drama Graduates 2007
VCA Drama School, Oct 31 to Nov 6, 2007
Reviewer: Kate Herbert

The loudest door slam in the history of theatre was not to be heard at the conclusion of this contemporary interpretation of Henrik Ibsen’s A Dollhouse (commonly translated as A Doll’s House) directed by Daniel Schlusser for a talented group of VCA graduates.

If you know the play, you understand that tinkering with the ending is theatrical sacrilege. It interferes with the controversial social politics that caused such vehement reactions from Ibsen’s conservative late 19th century Norway.

Schlusser’s adaptation is playful and energetic and locates Nora (Katherine Harris) and her husband Torvald (Nick Jamieson) in a modern context. It deconstructs the play, adding contemporary references and music, an industrial metallic design (Jeminah Reidy) and plenty of 21st century techno toys. 

Ibsen’s dialogue is interrupted with youthful banter and game playing while the stage is littered with toys, stressing the childish behaviour of these characters who struggle with their dysfunctional adult relationships.

A pert Harris plays Nora as a coquettish tease, giving the child-woman a modern naivete that parallels that of 19th century Nora. Jamieson’s Torvald is a control freak with a dangerous edge despite his playfulness, a successful banker who rules his wife with an iron fist but expects her to be pretty, stupid and sexy. It is frightening that a tyrant such as Torvald and a ditz like Nora do not look out of place in the modern era.

Michael Wahr plays the manipulative Krogstad as a relapsing drug addict who tumbles on stage through cupboard doors. His emotional reunion with Edwina Wren as Kristine was moving. Ben Pfeiffer gives a comical but sympathetic portrayal of Dr. Rank who confronts his mortality.

Nora’s disintegrating psychological landscape and loss of faith in the security of the doll’s house in which she has been living are represented clearly in the chaotic noise, confused action and clutter of children’s toys at the end. 

This is feisty reinterpretation of Ibsen. However, when Nora stays with Torvald because he compels her to see her children, the final scene becomes merely a bad marital argument rather than Nora’s shattering realisation of a life wasted and misunderstood, a woman escaping from a socially sanctioned oppression and walking into the unknown with her very survival at risk.

No matter that Ibsen considered changing his ending to appease his critics. The play is nothing without the door slam. Run Nora. Run.

By Kate Herbert

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