A Doll’s House
Royal Lyceum, Edinburgh, until May 4
Reviewed by Mark Brown
It is four years since Zinnie Harris’s version of Henrik Ibsen’s great play A Doll’s House premiered at the Donmar Warehouse in London. If anything, intervening events have rendered this revival by the National Theatre of Scotland and the Lyceum less relevant than its predecessor.
Harris relocates the action from recently appointed bank manager Torvald Helmer’s middle-class Scandinavian suburb to the home of Thomas Vaughan MP, a newly-promoted British cabinet minister, at the turn of the 19th and 20th centuries. We can, of course, easily identify with the very public fortunes and misfortunes of politicians. However, in the midst of the biggest banking crisis since the Great Crash of 1929, the greater dramatic possibilities would seem to lie with Ibsen’s bankers.
Indeed, the relocation of the story creates a grating incongruity. In Ibsen’s play there is a clear logic in Krogstad, a lowly banker, arranging a dubious loan for Torvald’s wife, Nora. With Harris, we are scratching our heads as to why Neil Kelman MP would dirty his hands setting up a “backstreet loan” for a rival politician’s spouse.
Nevertheless, Harris does bring something distinctly exciting to the table in uncovering the sexual dimension of the Helmers’ relationship. As it was, Ibsen’s play outraged Victorian morality. For it to have suggested that the Helmers’ bourgeois marriage amounted to “prostitution”, as Harris’s script does, is simply unimaginable.
Graham McLaren’s production is blessed with some strong acting (not least from Hywel Simons’ puffed up, but quickly vulnerable, patriarch Thomas Vaughan), but blighted by Brian McCardie’s playing of Kelman (an emotionally stinted, vocally strangulated caricature of a working-class Scottish parliamentarian). There’s little value added to a frustratingly uneven production by either Robert Innes Hopkins’s set (a realistic grand apartment with emotionally ineffective dirt mired on the walls) or Nick Sagar’s often bombastic music.
This review was originally published in the Sunday Herald on April 21, 2013
© Mark Brown