Bringing the Doll to Life: Review of Sport for Jove’s A Doll’s House
A Doll’s House (1879) had an explosive impact when it was first staged over a hundred years ago, and even today the play’s power still resonates. Ibsen’s piece charts the disintegration of Nora and Torvald Helmer’s marriage. We open to a seemingly loving relationship, though Nora and Torvald have endured financial and medical hardship – Torvald almost succumbing to overwork and exhaustion. But, with a new job, things seem to be improving. We find that during his sickness however, Nora was forced to find money to allow the family to holiday in a warmer climate (for its rejuvenating quality). In order to secure these much needed funds, Nora forged her dying father’s signature; an act that now threatens to bring shame and humiliation upon the family. It is only during this turmoil that Nora comes to recognize the restrictions she has been living under all her life, which have effectively denied her from becoming the person she should be.
A Doll’s House is now seen to be a proto-feminist piece. It can certainly be aligned with many ideas that gained popular currency in the middle of last century, particularity the writings of Germaine Greer. To that end, Ibsen conceives of the issue as arising out of a culture that naturalizes the social rules that women (and to a lesser extent, men) are expected to play. We can see this in the numerous references to the ‘diseases of our forbearers’. Dr. Rank’s illness is said to have developed because of the decadent life his father led, and Torvald firmly believes that a lack of morality in a parent will pass on to their off-spring. In this same manner, the legacy of society produced the constraints that Nora now lives under. All of the characters, though, are the products of a society that they have been born into. Nora’s father and Torvald had an image of how a woman was supposed to behave and Nora adopted this mask. While Torvald is not an awful person, he has never been able to see beyond his social blinkers: he has always lived under the impression that this is the natural state of things, and so it need not be questioned. Ibsen, however, invites his audience to question the status quo, to appreciate that the society we live in is not natural, but a construction, and when certain members of a society are favoured over others we all have an onus to react against it.
Director Adam Cook’s adaptation has remained loyal to Ibsen’s text. The play has maintained its original setting and none of its relevance has been lost. From his director’s note it is evident that Cook has a deep respect for the text, something that has been lacking in recent adaptations where directors have felt the need to rewrite endings or recontextualise the play to make it say something different. Cook successfully shows that by actually looking to what the play says, and allowing it to speak for itself, powerful and moving theatre can be produced that is more than capable of affecting a modern audience. Of course, he is aided by a fine set of performances!
Matilda Ridgway is flawless as Nora. Her outstanding portrayal of this remarkable woman is deeply nuanced and perfectly characterised. Ridgway layers her Nora with neuroses, stoicism and a sense of longing for self. Ridway’s character arc is dynamic and wonderfully calculated; this is Nora as Ibsen would have wanted.
Ridgway’s male co-stars had their work cut out for them. Douglas Hansell’s Torvald is appropriately self-assured – a ‘man-made man’. Hansell manages Torvalds old world ideals with finesse and the physical chemistry between the pair is highly satisfying. Yet Hansell was pressed to compete with Ridgway’s effortless stage presence in the final act.
Anthony Gooley played Nils Krogstad with a good balance of malice and desperation. Generally, Gooley’s instinct made for a well-developed character and as a result, the audience was sympathetic towards Krogstad’s plight. However, Gooley seemed to suffer from a bout of nerves that had a slightly paralytic effect on his performance.
Solid performances came from Annie Byron as the loveable long service maid, Helen with Barry French producing a nicely observed melancholic gravitas as Dr Rank. Francesca Savige played the quiet yet enduring Kristine with fortitude, differentiating herself as an older and worldlier woman. Real life brothers, Bill Blake and Thom Blake, were simply a delight as Nora’s two boys.
This is an excellent production of Ibsen, done in a way that is attentive to the play that was actually written. Belvoir take note. A Doll’s House is playing at the Seymour Centre until the 2nd of August. For more information see: