Henrik Ibsen’s classic 1879 play A Doll’s House gets a make-over in Joanna Murray-Smith’s adaptation for the Ensemble Theatre. In this adaptation there are fewer characters, it’s set in modern times, and some of the plot details have been updated. Whether the play survives the transformation with its original vision in tact is a moot point.
When Norwegian playwright, Ibsen first presented A Doll’s House to the conservative audiences of the late 19th century, it provoked an outraged clutching of pearls. For the time, its themes of female rebelliousness and dishonest behaviour were downright scandalous. Almost a century and a half later, those particular transgressions would barely raise the social thermometer.
But Ibsens’ play isn’t just about public morality, it’s about the complexity of relationships and the inherent flaws in human nature.
Nora (Chantelle Jamieson) and Torvald (James Lugton) are a middle class couple with three children, a nanny, and a reasonable amount of expendable income. The play opens with an effervescent Nora brandishing shopping bags filled with Christmas gifts, then directing two delivery men to bring in and position a fresh, quite large, Christmas tree. Torvald enters from his study where he has been trying to finish off some work. This scene and their conversation gives immediate insight into the two characters: Nora is impetuous, child-like, gregarious; Torvald is circumspect, even-keeled, patriarchal.
We soon meet two more characters: Kristina (Lizzie Schebesta), a childhood friend of Nora who is much more demure; and George (Tim Walter), a congenial doctor with a walking cane and a wry sense of humour, and old friend of the couple. Slowly, selectively, secrets are revealed and an intrigue takes shape.
Enter Nils Krogstad (David Soncin), a sinister looking bank employee bearing a briefcase and a grudge. The intrigue escalates and the patina of affluence and righteousness begins to show tarnish.
It’s not a perfect re-imagining of Ibsen, but performances are all very good. Lugton shines. Jamieson has a strong presence though she sometimes borders on histrionic. The set is clever and functional.
It’s an engaging production and still thought provoking, though perhaps with a focus on other elements of the human psyche than Ibsen’s original version.