Venue: Ensemble Theatre (Kirribilli NSW), Jun 10 – Jul 16, 2022
Playwright: Henrik Ibsen (adapted by Joanna Murray-Smith)
Director: Mark Kilmurry
Cast: Chantelle Jamieson, James Lugton, Lizzie Schebesta, David Soncin, Tim Walter
Images by Prudence Upton
Nora has committed a victimless crime, in efforts to rescue her family from financial ruin. With her husband Torvald installed as the unequivocal head of household, Nora can only operate furtively, even though her actions are anything but selfish. The themes in Henrik Ibsen’s 1879 play A Doll’s House demonstrates that things may improve with time, but meaningful change occurs at a painfully slow pace. This new modern day adaptation by Joanna Murray-Smith is a concise revisiting of the classic, updated for audiences with reduced attention spans, but retains all the essences of the original. It is alarming, how little the story needs to change, to bring Nora convincingly back from a century-and-a-half ago.
Mark Kilmurry’s direction bears the formalness of a period piece, even though letters have been replaced by emails, and ostracism is now partly evidenced as a fall from grace on social media. Design aspects are minimally, and slightly unimaginatively, rendered, but there is a passionate urgency, especially at the conclusion, that makes this version of A Doll’s House a memorable experience. Kilmurry’s sincere commitment to making heard, the play’s central point of gender equality, keeps it resonating long after curtain call.
Lead actor Chantelle Jamieson’s commanding presence is responsible for the vivacious energy of the entire production. She brings a valuable acuity that Nora lacks, so that we may gain important insights, including ones that her character is yet to understand. Jamieson begins her performance with an abundance of manic intensity, appropriate for a woman with secrets to hide, but it is after the truth comes out, when a stillness takes over, that we truly see the depths of this actor’s abilities.
Torvald is played by a generous James Lugton, who is suitably patronising and patriarchal in his depictions of an antiquated being. He becomes increasingly despicable as the show progresses, culminating in a chilling moment in which he calls his dark-skinned wife “genetically doomed”, for a moment of dramatic danger that reminds us of the racial dimensions of this new retelling of an old tale. Lizzie Schebesta, David Soncin and Tim Walter are the remaining cast members, all impressive with the level of professional dedication they bring to their roles, delivering a great sense of believability to Nora’s little world.
In the space of ten minutes, we watch Nora grow exponentially, as everything around her falls apart. It is true that life will give us many pivotal moments, but these are really only opportunities that could ultimately mean nothing, unless one finds the courage to make them consequential.