BWW Review: A DOLL'S HOUSE at Bakehouse Theatre
Reviewed by Fiona Talbot-Leigh, Saturday 19th January 2019.
Over one hundred years after it was first written by Henrik Ibsen, A Doll's House is still sadly relevant today. Director, Nathan Quadrio, and Miriam Fietz have adapted this wonderful play for IpSkip Productions and taken it from 1879 Copenhagen to a London apartment in 1959. The number of actors and the set has been completely stripped back and the result is surprisingly intriguing. Set against the black walls of the theatre was a simple wooden coffee table with two chairs and a door frame. That is all that was needed, as the actors, and particularly the women in their beautiful dresses, added the colour to bring the stage to life.
This play centres on Nora, a 1950's housewife and mother who harbours a financial secret. The other four characters pivot around her, each with their own dark secrets, and what unfolds is a glimpse into each of their personas as they seek their own agenda whilst inexplicably being drawn into each other's agenda.
Nora Helmer is exceptionally well played by Allison Scharber. She epitomised the dutiful wife perfectly, complimented by Ann Humphries colourful costume choices and exquisite hairstyle. From the moment she stepped onstage, I wanted to know more about Nora as in mere minutes it became clear that she was contorting herself to her husband's wishes and wasn't living a life of her own.
This was a demanding role and Scharber was more than capable of the task. Nora was trapped in a situation of her own doing and, with women being so reliant on their husbands at the time, I was not sure where it would lead. Imagine my surprise when, in the end, the mouse becomes a lion as Nora makes the decision to just up and leave her children, as well her 8-year marriage. I wanted to stand and cheer in Scharber's last scene as she delivered her final speech with depth, dignity and strength, which her character actually had in her all along.
Georgia Stockham delivered a solid performance as Nora's old school friend Christine, whose arrival to the Helmer home brings chaos of its own. Christine was joined onstage by Niles Krogstad, played by Anthony Vawser. Krogstad was the kind of man whose presence could immediately clear a room and Vawser played him to a tee. Nora's long term friend and secret admirer, Dr Arthur Rank, was admirably played by James McCluskey-Garcia. He brought much warmth and compassion to his role and the scene where he professes his love for Nora was very touching.
But it was Matt Houston's portrayal of Nora's husband, Torvald, that was a highlight of the evening. With just the right mix of chauvinistic and narcissistic behaviour, Houston completely epitomised a British oaf. In every scene that he appeared, he was captivating, none more so than the comic relief he provided at the beginning of the second act.
Houston was completely believable, and he and Scharber complimented each other well as husband and wife. Complete with subtle lighting, this was a most entertaining piece of theatre.
Quadrio has put together a very fine cast who under his direction, brought to life a story which we still need to hear today; that of an oppressed woman and the consequences that ensue from not being true to oneself. If this is the quality of IpSkip Productions, then the rest of the season will be worth looking out for.