Zinnie Harris’ adaptation of Ibsen’s A Doll’s House powerfully dismantles the one-dimensional facade of our public personas, opening hidden doors to reveal the passion, fears and dissatisfaction of the real lives beneath.
Nora, on the surface, is the perfect politician’s wife: demure, attractive and loyal. Her husband Thomas views her as an essential part of his career — though devoted to her, their external veneer of respectability is essential: any problems they may encounter must be faced strictly behind closed doors.
And it is those same doors which imprison Nora, who seeks escape in distracting, naive intimacy and sugar highs which help her maintain an image of happiness and contentment. Yet when circumstances threaten to expose a past mistake, her seemingly perfect house comes under threat of being blown down.
Graham McLaren’s production at the Lyceum is a taut and evocative staging. With Robert Innes Hopkins’ beautifully-designed set and an ominously brooding soundtrack by Nick Sagar, the walls of this doll’s house feel as though they are closing in, driving the piece with a claustrophobic finality towards its crushing climax.
Amy Manson captures Nora’s spirit perfectly: her childlike coping mechanisms, her descent into neuroses and her ultimate strength all shine through in a performance which is a centrifugal force around which all the others spin. Hywel Simons as her husband Thomas provides a foil for this: strong and noble on the surface, yet cracking to display the fear and desperation beneath. And an unsettling and striking performance comes from Brian McCardie as the disgraced Kelman: a psychotic powderkeg of unpredictable aggression and unbalanced emotion, his performance personifies the conflict at the piece’s heart, giving it a chilling and unforgettable face.
A Doll’s House may be traditional theatre: but here McLaren exposes its veins, making it pulse with relevance to an audience familiar with the fake smiles of politicians and the paper-thin walls which separate us from our true desires. Gripping and tense with some blistering performances, it closes the door on the Lyceum’s season with a resoundingly memorable impact.
A Doll’s House runs at the Lyceum Theatre until 4 May. More information on the Lyceum website.