Review: A Doll’s House, Royal Lyceum, Edinburgh (Daily Telegraph)

A Doll’s House, Royal Lyceum, Edinburgh

Mark Brown wishes Zinnie Harris hadn’t tampered so much with Ibsen’s setting of the play, A Doll’s House, at the Royal Lyceum in Edinburgh.

We are in London, at the turn of the 19th and 20th centuries, in the government-owned home of recently-appointed cabinet minister Thomas Vaughan MP and his wife Nora. Such is the setting for Zinnie Harris’s version of Ibsen’s enduring opus A Doll’s House, which premiered at the Donmar Warehouse in 2009, and is being revived in Edinburgh in a co-production between the National Theatre of Scotland and the Royal Lyceum.

One can see why Harris might have thought that transforming recently appointed Norwegian bank manager Torvald Helmer and his disgraced colleague Nils Krogstad into British politicians of similarly varying fortunes would give the play an additional dramatic edge. Ironically, however, such is the crisis in the world banking system, she would probably have been better leaving her theatrical money where it was, with Ibsen’s bankers.

If only Harris hadn’t tampered so much with Ibsen’s setting of the play, we might have had a clearer view of a truly significant innovation in her script. More than 130 years after the piece was written, Harris is able to emphasise the distorted sexual relations between the Vaughans in a way that Ibsen could not have done. When Nora proclaims that her husband has, in effect, kept her as a “prostitute”, her words carry a shuddering truth.

Director Graham McLaren is assisted by some fine performances. Hywel Simons is a wonderfully sarcastic and arrogant Thomas, while Amy Manson’s Nora is nicely balanced between frivolous sexual availability and a developing sense of affronted humanity.

However, Brian McCardie’s Neil Kelman (the transposed Krogstad character) is an entirely different kettle of fish. Croaking his way through the play, like a cross between a distressed frog and an unkind caricature of a working-class Glaswegian MP, McCardie’s performance is, whether by accident or design, so emotionally constipated as to be painful to the audience. One cannot imagine why on Earth Christine Lyle (Harris’s reimagined Christine Linde, played excellently by Lucianne McEvoy) would want to live with him for an hour, let alone the rest of her life.

If designer Robert Innes Hopkins is aiming for something symbolic in dirtying the walls and ceiling of the Vaughans’ new home, he has failed. Meanwhile, composer Nick Sagar’s music has the annoying, Spielbergian habit of telling its audience which emotion to feel and when to feel it. Consequently, this production, like Harris’s script itself, often seems like a debilitating battle between conflicting elements.

Runs until May 4

This review was originally published on the website of the Daily Telegraph on April 19, 2013

© Mark Brown


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