There is a brilliant cast in this production of A Doll’s House at the Royal Exchange. The type of cast dynamic that makes me think – are those occasional tables really necessary? Come on now, it’s the round so it’s not going to be like a real room in 1879, surely the bare minimum plus costume would do the trick? I wish I didn’t have to concern myself with the set, so when I am looking at the relationships and in awe – as always – of the transformation from detestable spoilt parrot to caged spirit freeing herself, I don’t want to veer off into wondering – what actually is that detail around the side of them…is it gilded? …Filigree?
Anyway back to the cast – Cush Jumbo as Nora Helmer…she does the La Tarantella as if holding up her façade requires such ferocity it is no wonder that finally being released from the lies, the constant smoothing over, dressing up and doing up – she finishes the play with such calm and Zen delivery. The glide into her new future is a great call by Greg Hersov not to force a dramatic retreat, but allow Nora to leave with a calculated grace missing from her marriage so far. It’s the first time I have seen a production and actually thought that perhaps there may be something to repair here. And that is not only in this choice of characterisation but in the actual realisation by the superb David Sturzaker as Torvald of who his wife could be and what he may gain in the future from being introduced to her true self. It is one thing to deny your wife her right to be a mother to her children, it is another for your wife to say- actually I cannot bear to be their mother because of what you have wanted me to be and YOU have taken that from them – life with it. And I really get that, from this production.
I was intrigued by the transformation of Mrs Linde played by Kelly Hotten. When she first appeared I was as shocked as Nora how much older she was than her and it was unbelievable that they would be school friends considering the age difference. But as Mrs Linde became relieved at her new job and, further on, her new love, she replenished and became visibly younger. I do wonder if this is due to how childlike Nora first appears or if there were some subtle changes in Hotten’s demeanour that allowed this to happen.
Sad, that so many of the issues raised in A Doll’s House still hold resonance – by now it should seem ridiculous to us that marriage could be akin to making the best of captivity. Some would even argue that marriage should now seem to us as quaint and dated as the key to the glass letter box. But we know these Torvald and Nora relationships still exist and Sturzaker’s portrayal of Torvald with his intonation of bemusement at her audacity and his snarling disgust at her ingenuity and deceit – the set-up isn’t unrecognisable. And neither is Cush Jumbo’s preened princess who hides the debts and the cracks. It’s one of those productions where the audience all join in on the joke that actually we’re not that different now.
Review by Richard Marsden
Where: The Royal Exchange, Manchester
When: until June 1, 2013
More info: www.royalexchange.co.uk/dollshouse, Box Office- 0161 833 9833