A Doll’s House at the Young Vic

Published August 15, 2013

She’s already picked up an Olivier Award nomination and two major awards during A Doll’s House’s runs at the Young Vic, but now Hattie Morahan is back, bringing her powerful portrayal of Nora Helmer to the West End.

Playwright-of-the-moment Simon Stephens (Curious Incident, Sea Wall and part of the Lyric Hammersmith’s Secret Theatre team) provides her with a dynamic new version of Henrik Ibsen’s classic drama in which she plays the Norwegian housewife who finds herself in a serious amount of debt – and trouble – after forging her late father’s signature in order to borrow money that helps nurse her ill husband back to health.

Morahan beautifully charts the lead character’s emotional journey, evolving from playful childishness through her burdensome debt into a strong-willed woman intent on autonomy and freedom. She perfectly captures both the comic and tragic aspects of Nora’s character, demonstrating a hilarious lack of modesty as she secretly guzzles chocolates and a severe countenance as she bears the weight of the world on her shoulders.

The award-winning actress is well supported by Dominic Rowan as her ambitious but loving husband Torvald who succeeds in matching his co-star’s comedy with an inebriated demonstration of embroidery. But, as he constantly alludes to his wife as a swallow and a lark, Rowan’s Torvald both positions Nora as a pretty plaything trapped within a cage and pre-empts her eventual freedom as she develops the ability to fly free.

Among the rest of the talented 12-strong cast, Caroline Martin and Nick Fletcher give notable but understated performances as Kristine and Nils, while the younger members of the cast – including the miniature Emmy Helmer – have audiences melting in adoration.

Ian MacNeil’s revolving set challenges Morahan as a potential show-stealer, revealing multiple rooms, in and out of which Nora careers, reflecting the notion of a bird trying to escape.

Yet it is still the Olivier Award nominated actress’ mesmerising performance that remains the reason this production has provided audiences in Southwark and the West End with month upon month of memorable and impassioned drama.

 

Previous review from the Young Vic, by Matthew Amer:

What is it about Christmas and sadness? Despair and loss is at its most devastating when set against the hope and sparkle of the festive season.

So it is in Ibsen’s classic A Doll’s House, a play renowned for its denouement of female empowerment.

Except at the Young Vic, that ending is not quite as potent as it might be. It is egg nog rather than searing whiskey.

Hattie Morahan as Nora, Ibsen’s heroine who has secretly saved her husband’s life by taking out a loan to pay for a restorative holiday, is sensual, flirtatious and tellingly childlike from the start. Agog with yuletide excitement, her wild eyes grow wilder as her secret is threatened with exposure from an unscrupulous banker. (I know, who’d have thought!)

When her moment of clarity arrives, like a Christmas present that is both horrendous and freeing, it feels a stretch to believe she is suddenly lucid and taking control. Instead she feels like a teenage gap year student who needs to find themselves in some far flung corner of Asia.

Similarly Dominic Rowan’s Torvald, Nora’s unaware husband, is more patriarchal and patronising than controlling and contemptuous. Though he delivers probably the most ill-advised speech in the history of male/female relationships, he is, for the most part, likeable and attentive, which makes it hard not to feel at least a little sorry for him when his world implodes like a hollow Christmas pudding.

What may have been lost from Simon Stephens’ new translation under the direction of Carrie Cracknell in terms of pure dramatic power is counterbalanced with humour and entertainment.

Rowan, always adept at teasing a titter, is at his most delightful as a drunk Torvald, Steve Toussaint is an endearing Doctor Rank, full of bonhomie that disguises a deep sadness, Nick Fletcher is a toad of a man as the sleazy, desperate Krogstad and Morahan commands the stage as an infectiously infantile, emotionally exhausting Nora.

The music of fast-rising composer Stuart Earl perfectly captures the O Holy Night blend of festive splendour and ominous portents, swelling through the Young Vic’s auditorium as Ian MacNeil’s set slowly spins through scene changes in this Christmas cracker more concerned with the joke than the bang.

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