Nora: A Doll's House
Young Vic Theatre Spring 2020
Playwright Stef Smith
thinks Ibsen's classic A Doll's House needs help in being relevant to
the Twenty-first Century. She's wrong, of course, but her attempt to
gild the lily is inventive and entertaining enough in its own right
to be well worth seeing.
A reminder: Nora,
married to a stuffy banker
who treats her like a child, once forged a loan application that
saved his life. She's being blackmailed and fears his wrath when he
finds out. But he disappoints her even more by being patronisingly
She realises he's never
had any respect for her and she
has a lot of growing up to do, which she can only begin by leaving
him. The play ends with the most famous sound effect in all of world
drama, the offstage door closing behind her.
Stef Smith creates three
women in different periods: a strong suffragette in 1918, a dim
flower child in 1968 and a downmarket Scottish haufrau in 2018.
Onstage together, they
narrate and live out their variants on Nora's
story, taking turns seizing the spotlight or retiring to Chorus
status, and also taking turns playing the other female role, Nora's
(Meanwhile three male
actors are limited to one
role each as husband, villain and neighbour across the timelines.)
The flow of narrative
and action as the three Noras take their turns
is attractive and engaging. Although there are minor concessions to
chronology – the 1960s Nora fiddles a credit card application, and
the 2018 version gets a payday loan – the real variations are in
strength, the 60s version's
dippiness and the modern woman's no-nonsense practicality bounce off
each other in ways that enrich all three characterisations and the
overall picture of a complex woman.
Meanwhile – full credit
playwright, director Elizabeth Freestone and the performers – the
flow of the narrative and the individual characterisations remain
Indeed, at several
points one actress can carry on two
conversations at once, playing Nora to a second's Christine and
Christine to a third's Nora.
Amaka Okafor (1918),
(1968) and Anna Russell-Martin (2018) deserve praise for both their
individual characterisations and the group-created image of Nora they
collaborate on, with Okafor the most successful Christine.
men, the script gives Zephryn Taitte as the neighbour little
opportunity to do more than generously serve the play, while Luke
Norris is most successful at differentiating among the three versions
of the husband he plays.
But it is Mark Arends
who stands out,
surprisingly able to generate sympathy for the villain by presenting
him as a victim of circumstances.
There are some minor
the way. A lesbian element is gratuitously and distractingly
introduced to one of the timelines, and a coda suggesting what
happened to each Nora after that door closed only weakens a play that
knows where it wants to end.
But if Stef Smith's play is unnecessary as an 'improvement' on Ibsen, it stands well on its own merits as an alternative look at the same material.
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Review - Nora - Young Vic Theatre 2020