A Dolls House

Nov 18 2022 | By More

★★★☆☆   Effervescent

Bedlam Theatre: Wed 9 – Sat 12 Nov 2022
Review by Thom Dibdin

The EUTC have taken Ibsen’s great classic, A Dolls House, and given it an immersive telling at the Bedlam all week, in a production which updates the setting to contemporary times.

It’s a fast and compelling production too, one which gets under the skin of the central character of Nora Helmer, the dutiful wife who has married for status not love, but whose indiscretion – in the form a loan taken out on a forged signature – comes from somewhere beyond duty.

Gabriel Rogers as Torvald Helmer with Lucy Melrose as Nora Helmer in the EUTC production of A Dolls House. Pic EUTC  

The setting, with the audience in and around three sides of the playing area, throws the limelight more than ever on that central role. It’s a clever design, making the front rows of the audience the walls of the Helmer’s home, interrogating their lives and actions.

The play takes place just before Christmas, in the home of the Torvald and Nora Helmer who are celebrating his promotion to manager of the bank where he works. It will be the solution not just to the household’s financial problems – but will also allow Nora to pay back the loan.

Lucy Melrose as Nora carries the whole production with a lightness and sparkle. Compelling to watch, her excitement and angst shine through at every turn, genuinely disappointed when Torvald berates her extravagances and delighted when he takes pleasure in her dancing.

righteous anger

Gabriel Rogers’ Torvald is maybe a bit too stolid, lacking any real nuance. He is either cooing and billing over his beloved wife, or he is beside himself in righteous anger – but that anger is certainly palpable, particularly when he discovers Nora’s indiscretion.

There is little to fault in the supporting cast, who ensure that Nora remains the focus. Phee Simpson as her childhood friend Kristine Linde, is suitably affronted at Nora’s brazen lack of empathy (a moment in which Melrose gives Nora a breathtaking lack of self-awareness), calling her out and provoking the revelation about the loan.

Otis Kelly as Dr Rank in the EUTC production of A Dolls House. Pic EUTC

There is a nicely shifty and uncertain air to Benny Harrison’s Krogstad – who loaned the money to Nora, knowing that she had forged her father’s signature to gain it and is now determined to use that information to blackmail her into arguing his own cause with Torvald. Grace Hadleigh is quite the invisible servant as the maid, Anne-Marie.

Finessing the Dolls House’s variety of ages in a student production is not easy. Director Josie Rose Embleton steps nimbly over the issue of the children by having Nora speak with them on the phone. Less easy is Nora’s elderly admirer, Dr. Rank. Otis Kelly’s understated physical study of the character is nicely done and there is a poignancy to the key scene between Rank and Nora.

drives easily along

Embleton’s precise and sensible direction ensures that the production drives easily along, drawing an inescapable feminist message in Nora’s ultimate rejection of family life, but also throwing up interesting ideas about class in both the Helmers attitudes towards Kristine and Krogstad.

Lucy Melrose as Nora Helmer in the EUTC production of A Dolls House. Pic EUTC 

However, not all the productions meta conceits work as well as its basic thrust.

In practical terms, as an audience member it is fine being another doll on the shelf, looking into the dolls house; but if you happen to be sitting next to the record player in Torveld’s study when he leaves off reading the Guardian Online and puts on an Ella Fitzgerald record, the rest of the scene will be inaudible to you.

More problematic is the whole contemporary update. The play relies on a morality and social mores that went out in the 1960s. Beyond that, the device of Krogstad’s letter, sitting waiting to be read in the locked letter box, is most disquieting when he has already shown the fateful document to Nora on his laptop.

Still, these concerns are worth overlooking. For the most part Lois Zon and Luca Stier’s management of the set is excellent. Evie Parnham and Rose Curnyn’s costumes are quite the thing and Mallory Smith’s lighting works well to help delineate the different areas of the set.

More to the point, what ever the quibbles, Embleton’s certainty in her direction ensures a fresh and a thought-provoking take on a play that is much revived.

Running time: Two hours and 25 minutes (including one interval)
Bedlam Theatre, 11b Bristo Place, EH1 1EZ
Wednesday 9 – Saturday 12 2022
Evenings: 7.30pm.
Tickets and details: Book here.


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