‘A Doll’s House’ review – Ibsen’s drama reimagined with colonial Indian setting

Tanika Gupta’s revival is a bold adaptation of the playwright’s classic, but lacks pace – ★★★

Rachel O’Riordan’s directorial debut at the Lyric is imaginative and ambitious. Starting with a new take on Henrik Ibsen’s play about a wife trapped in a patriarchal household, the tale is relocated in India. Nora is now Niru and Torvald is British colonialist Tom. The ‘doll’s house’ in question is transformed into an impressive and expansive stone space by Lily Arnold, with a tree centre stage.

With the addition of a driving score from Arun Ghosh, the new setting is firmly established. The musical accompaniment goes some way to keep the play moving, but for what is an incredibly emotional tale, the conviction needed to maintain momentum is, for the most part, absent. Niru throws herself against the walls in periods of exposition and panic, but otherwise the emotions feel hidden and fail to captivate. It may well be the calculating, reserved and oppressed personality of Niru which means we don’t see much of her feelings for the first act, but it still hinders the development of her character.

There’s also a sense somewhat that those most familiar with the play will get the most out of it, knowing how the original characters and setting tap into the socio-political scene in Ibsen’s time, how they feel throughout the play and how they’ve been adapted by Gupta. For a first act dedicated to character development, Niru’s relationship with old friend Mrs Lahiri is important, but conversations feel excessive to the extent that it’s easy to feel lost for the majority of the first half. The second and final act is a lot more interesting once I remind myself of the initial plot on Wikipedia, and the performances become a lot more powerful.

Colin Tierney plays the eccentric Dr Rank with somber despair as he observes his environment, while Anjana Vasan and Elliot Cowan’s explosive dialogue in the climax as Niru and Tom respectively. The conclusion is certainly devastating and explosive, as expected, but such a thrilling and impactful ending to close what is otherwise a slowing plot feels a tad underwhelming.

A Doll’s House is now playing at The Lyric Hammersmith Theatre until 5 October.

Production Images: Helen Maybanks.

Design: Lily Arnold.

Lighting: Kevin Treacy.

Disclaimer: I was invited to watch A Doll’s House for free in exchange for a review of the performance as a member of the press. I did not receive payment for this review and all opinions stated are honest and my own.

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