A Doll's House by Henrik Ibsen

Posted on: 19 July 2012 by Gareth Hargreaves

Controversial Ibsen classic arrives at The Young Vic. Laurence Green reviews.

A Doll's House - IbsenA play which provoked huge controversy with its apparent feminist message when first staged in 1879, namely Henrik Ibsen’s A Doll’s House is back in an absorbing new production, directed by Carrie Cracknell, at the Young Vic Theatre in London.

The story centres on Nora Helmer, a woman who is both heroic and immature. Nora has secretly borrowed a large amount of money to pay for her husband Torvald, to recover from illness on a sabbatical in Italy. Torvald’s perception of Nora is of a silly, naive, spendthrift and he treats her merely as a toy. The situation changes dramatically, however, with the unwelcome arrival of Nils Krogstad, a creepy insinuating employee of her husband who is facing the sack for dishonesty. He claims to have evidence that she forged the signature of her late father who was on his deathbed at the time to secure the loan, and threatens that unless he is reinstated, he will inform her husband.

However it is only when the truth begins to emerge that Torvald realises who Nora really is that un-mendable cracks appear in their marriage. 

What shocked Victorian theatregoers most was Ibsen’s treatment of sexual politics: he suggested the need for women to rebel against their supposedly sacred duties and that they should not be treated as if they were merely role playing. Here the drama of Nora’s situation is put fully into perspective. Furthermore director Carrie Cracknell gives the violin of sacrifice and conscience set in a suburban corner of Norway a renewed freshness so that it appears as urgent and harrowing as ever.

Hattie Morahan brings a heartfelt passion to the role of the highly strung Nora, a woman both fussy and frivolous who finally finds the courage to confront her husband with some difficult truths about their marriage, while Dominic Rowan makes a suitably controlling, hypocritical Torvald. Strong support is provided by Susannah Wise as Nora’s old friend Kristie and Nick Fletcher as the blackmailing, shady Krogstad, whose actions destroy a family Christmas and sets the whole ball rolling.

Simon Stephen’s commendable new English language version wisely does not try to  update the action and remains faithful to Ibsen’s original text, while Ian MacNeil's atmospheric design on a revolving stage, evokes both domesticity and something much less comfortable, making the Helmer’s home seem just like a doll’s house, a claustrophobic environment in which its characters appear trapped.

In short then this is a powerful and emotionally stirring interpretation of Ibsen’s great masterpiece. 

A Doll’s House

Runs until Saturday 4 August
The Young Vic, London 

Box office: 020 7922 2922


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