In its clever placing of Nora across three different moments in history, Stef Smith’s take on A Doll’s House certainly cements the play as a timeless classic – but is that a good thing?
After all, when a story about misogyny and sexism rings true in 1918, 1968 and 2018 as it does in Nora: A Doll’s House, the similarity across the three eras suggests ‘timeless classic’ is far from complimentary.
Powerfully directed by Elizabeth Freestone, Nora’s journey of blackmail, secrecy and realisation races between the three time periods with thrilling energy. The trio (consisting of Amaka Okafor, Natalie Klamar and Anna Russell-Martin) are tightly connected but shine as individuals in their own right. Together, lines are delivered by all three with impressive synchronisation. As one Nora takes centre stage, the other two silently act out the same interaction from the sidelines. Three simultaneous stories told in 100 minutes may sound overwhelming, but a clear and dramatic narrative is consistent throughout.
As individuals, each Nora has their own stance on the domestic crisis. 1918 Nora (Okafor) has a fierce assertiveness off the back of women’s suffrage, 1968 Nora (Klamar) bubbles with the buzz of the 60s and 2018 Nora (Russell-Martin) moves unenthused, with an air of exhaustion.
It’s multiple narratives offers up a multitude of interpretations of Ibsen’s work. The referring to Nora as a ‘skylark’ by Tom (for whom credit must be given to Luke Norris for transitioning between three versions of the patriarch with lightning fast speed), takes on three different meanings across the time periods – from the possessive and authoritarian to a more throwaway form of flirting.
Although, the use of three protagonists means Smith has to be selective in matching one Nora to one specific plot point. When it works, the contemporary nature shines through – most notably in the case of Russell-Martin’s Nora, whose story has a subtle undertone of modern day austerity. When Nathan (Mark Arends) blackmails her with information of a fraudulent payday loan, the idea of keeping a family afloat feels incredibly relevant.
It struggles with Klamar’s Nora, who acts with a softly spoken delicacy and friendliness which makes her rebellion at the play’s climax feel incredibly out of place and out of character. It leaves 1918 Nora and 2018 Nora as bookends for 100 years of feminism, and while we see shimmers of suffrage and allusions to austerity, the socio-political ideas which emerge in their time periods aren’t as apparent or punchy as they could be. Nora: A Doll’s House‘s take on Ibsen does, however, serve as another reminder of just how painfully appropriate the script continues to be.
Nora: A Doll’s House is now playing at the Young Vic Theatre until 21 March.
Disclaimer: I was invited to watch Nora: A Doll’s House for free in exchange for a review of the performance. I did not receive payment for this review. All opinions stated are honest and my own.