JOYCE MCMILLAN on A DOLL’S HOUSE at the Royal Lyceum Theatre, Edinburgh, for The Scotsman 18.4.13.
4 stars ****
IT WAS pure chance that last night’s premiere of Zinnie Harris’s new version of A Doll’s House, for the Royal Lyceum and the National Theatre of Scotland, coincided with the funeral of Margaret Thatcher; but a strange and resonant coincidence, all the same, on a day that saw the British political establishment present its most grand and conventional public face. For Harris’s new adaptation of Ibsen’s mighty drama about the end of an apparently perfect marriage sets the play not in the world of old-fashioned banking, but squarely in the realm of Westminster politics.
Here, the husband of the heroine, Nora, is an ambitious young politician who has just reached cabinet rank; the place is not Norway in the 1870’s, but London in the Edwardian age. And when Nora’s past act of desperation in forging a signature to obtain a desperately-needed loan comes to light, we can immediately sense the full weight of the political and personal catastrophe that will overwhelm her and her husband Thomas, if the Fleet Street press ever catch wind of it.
It’s a shift that sets the scene for a tremendously tense and urgent staging of Ibsen’s most famous drama, directed by Graham McLaren, played out on a beautiful open set by Robert Innes Hopkins, and backed by Nick Sagar’s fierce, simmering soundscape. Hywel Simons as Thomas is every inch the pompous young stuffed shirt of a politician; Brian McCardie is terrifyingly thuggish as his desperate adversary Kelman, who threatens Nora with exposure. The heart of the production, though, lies in Amy Manson’s raw and stunning performance as Nora, a woman with a fundamentally modern sense of herself and her autonomy, who comes face to face with the heartless patriarchal deal-making at the heart of traditional marriage; and discovers that she is the kind of free spirit who has no option but to walk away from all that, into a completely different future.