Review: A Doll’s House (Sport For Jove Theatre)

sportforjoveVenue: Seymour Centre (Chippendale NSW), Jul 17 – Aug 2, 2014
Playwright: Henrik Ibsen (adapted by Adam Cook)
Director: Adam Cook
Cast: Annie Byron, Barry French, Anthony Gooley, Douglas Hansell, Matilda Ridgway, Francesca Savige
Image by Seiya Taguchi

Theatre review
It has been well over a century since Henrik Ibsen’s A Doll’s House first appeared on a Copenhagen stage in 1879, but the play is still a popular choice in Australia today. Its story and characters continue to resonate, and its social commentary remains relevant to many of our lives. The themes of gender politics, marriage and self-actualisation are no less significant than they were in Ibsen’s day. The sexual revolution might have come and gone, but judging by the power of Sport For Jove’s current production, the societal dysfunctions illustrated in A Doll’s House are not yet a relic of the past. Indeed, we face the question of whether these injustices can ever be eradicated, or if it is human nature that insists on power structures that subjugate and oppress.

Adam Cook’s adaptation gives the language a vernacular update, which allows Nora’s world to be accessible by contemporary Australian audiences. There is a familiarity to their speech that positions them as our peers rather than historical literary figures, and we are encouraged to relate to the unfolding events on a personal level. Cook’s flair as a director makes the issues at hand feel immediate and palpable. The realism he creates on stage is a nod to Ibsen’s legacy, and an effective avenue to communicate a sense of the everyday realities that we share with the personalities on stage. Cook is especially thoughtful in his handling of the more politically biting portions of the script. He makes sure that meanings are highlighted, and we are never allowed to ignore the elements that make this a landmark work.

Set and costumes are designed by Hugh O’Connor, who turns in excellent work on both fronts. Set pieces are elegantly selected and coordinated, and the space created is appropriately quaint. The sense of a nouveau riche class is gently evoked in its purposefully elegant blend of blues, greys and wood. The doors in Ibsen’s script are frequently cited, and they do come into focus often but unfortunately, the ones chosen are too modern for the context and can appear disharmonious with the established aesthetic. Costumes are beautiful and flattering, and every ensemble helps with character portrayals. They inspire postures and mannerisms for the actors, and also ignite our imagination with notions of time, space and personalities. It must be noted though, that Torvald’s tuxedo in the final scenes is severely ill-fitted and a disruption to the otherwise charming visuals that O’Connor has created.

Nora is played by Matilda Ridgway with outstanding dynamism and depth. Her delivery is a thorough study of one of Western theatre’s most celebrated characters. Ridgway’s deep understanding of the work’s nuances as well as her intelligent awareness of the audience’s expectations, contribute to a compelling and impressive performance. Her decision to play up Nora’s twee qualities is an interesting one. It pulls into sharp focus the falsity of her marriage, but loses somewhat, the dimension of someone of great fortitude, and someone who is capable of cunning when necessary. Nevertheless, Ridgway’s work in the penultimate scene of upheaval will be fondly remembered for its sheer dramatic force and emotional impact.

Douglas Hansell is an entertaining actor who creates a Torvald that is lively and intriguing. Humour always bubbles under his surface, which makes Torvald’s objectionable features amusing to observe, but by the same token, the presence Hansell provides tends to feel slightly flippant. Anthony Gooley is magnetic when he exhibits Krogstad’s menacing side. The danger he unleashes is thrilling and seductive, but his depiction of desperation is uneven. His love scene with Kristine (played with an alluring stoicism by Francesca Savige) is a little lacking in polish, but it ends on a high note with ardently moving results.

The audacity of the play’s conclusion will never fade. Nora’s eventual decisions are simultaneously controversial and heroic. She justifies her actions with great conviction, and even though Ibsen leaves us little room for doubt, the play ends with a stinging hint of discomfort. Adam Cook and Matilda Ridgway have achieved something quite remarkable. We rejoice in their Nora’s exaltation, but we do not forget the dangers that lie ahead. Like their Nora, we too choose to risk everything, for everything counts for nothing, if all that is lived is a lie.