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Adagio Teas
   Features  >  London Theatre Reviews

at the Young Vic


  Hattie Morahan and Dominic Rowan/ Ph: Johan Persson

Like a sparkling Christmas gift twinkling with promise, Carrie Cracknell’s acclaimed production of Ibsen’s classic twirls into the West End. And in its opening moments, there’s as much childish excitement as occasioned by any Yuletide treat. Nora, the lady of the house, is flushed from an afternoon’s shopping, cooing over her purchases and admiring her decorative touches. But, of course, what’s beneath the gilded wrapping is explosive. And all the tinkling, superficial magic of this festive family scene is set to be blown to smithereens.
Ian MaNeil’s design is, in a very real sense, an oversized doll’s house: a tinkling, revolving music-box toy that permits us to peep into every room, and where Hattie Morahan’s riveting Nora is trapped, part pampered plaything, part caged animal. This sharply intelligent new version of the text by Simon Stephens emphasises the cruel comedy in her predicament. If to her banker husband Torvald (Dominic Rowan) she is a pretty, swooping swallow, she’s a bird increasingly struggling to sing in tune. And the harder she beats her wings against the bars, the more hysterical her cries become.
Morahan’s Nora is, in fact, as ill equipped to confront what lies outside the door that she will eventually slam behind her as her own children, whose shrieks and squeals of delight mimic her own. She takes the same delight in pretty trinkets and sweets, cramming macaroons into her mouth behind Torvald’s back with an infantile glee. So when Cracknell presents us with the sight of this girl-woman holding the baby she will later abandon, the effect is genuinely shocking.
The secret Semtex at the core of this household is, of course, financial. Nora, having forged her father’s signature to borrow money when Torvald was ill, is not only in debt, but guilty of fraud, and Krogstad, an employee Torvald is about to fire from the bank, is threatening blackmail. As played by Nick Fletcher, Krogstad is a piteous creature driven by desperation – though in Nora’s eyes, viewed as a terrifying, looming figure in her childish gingerbread house, he is the bogeyman of nightmares.
And there is no escape for her, in the end, other than the one that leads out into the grown-up world. Rowan’s Torvald seems at first like a cuddly, if overbearing, teddy bear. But alcohol prompts the revelation of his claws, teeth and sexual appetite; we can almost imagine him eating his comely and by now terrified wife alive. The bilious resignation of Nora’s widowed old school friend Kristine (Caroline Martin) is of little help. Nor, it transpires, can she turn to old family friend Doctor Rank, who freezes her intended plea for succour on her lips when he confesses a long-standing sexual admiration for her. In that role, Steve Toussaint looks rather too youthful and healthy for a dying man with a spinal disease, but he has a quiet dignity, unknowingly just another bar of the domestic prison in which Nora’s despair and self-realisation reaches an almost shattering intensity. A classic rendered with cataclysmic force.


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