Monday, 2 July 2012

A Doll’s House at the Young Vic (Or, “Naive young woman takes a gap year”)

Last week The Director and I won a pair of theatre tickets in a raffle. The play was Ibsen’s A Dolls’ House at the Young Vic, so this evening we roped in one of our wonderful friends to babysit and went along. I’m glad that we didn’t have to pay for the tickets.

A full house on a wet Monday evening is certainly something to be proud of, and certainly the play has had glowing reviews from the Guardian and has had to extend its run to meet demand. I can see why it’s been such a success: what the audience is given is a shallow, easily digestible slice of jaded propaganda.
 The direction, courtesy of Carrie Cracknell is patchy- Hattie Morahan works incredibly hard as Nora, but the rest of the casts’ performances are so painfully restrained that she has little to work with. The blame must be shared by the director and playwright who between them seem to have conspired to produce a play in which only the protagonist is allowed to show any depth of character. I felt particularly sorry for Dominic Rowan as Torvald, who showed momentarily in the second act what he might have been capable of, had he been allowed to fill out his part. The character of Christine was wasted: so much more could have been made of her role, but she felt like nothing more than a handy deus ex machina. The “sexual tension” between Nora and Dr Rank feels formulaic and superfluous. The combination of acts one and two results in an interminable first half, by the end of which even an enthusiastic audience were starting to fidget and one gentleman behind me was audibly asleep.  There were numerous small errors- things getting stuck, lines getting lost in laughter or too-loud music which, while not terminal were irritating.

When Ibsen’s play had its debut, it must have been groundbreaking; the story of a young wife dealing with the repercussions of borrowing money and deceiving her husband comes to a dramatic close when the protagonist, Nora, opts to leave her husband and three young children to set off alone on the path towards self actualisation. At least, I think that’s the way the director saw it, and judging from the jubilant reaction of the audience it’s how quite a large proportion of them saw it too. I had, shall we say, a less sympathetic interpretation. Carrie Cracknell’s presentation of Simon Stephens’ appallingly awkward script was an irresponsible, immature treatment of a story which could have posed fantastically complex questions about love, honesty and self awareness. Cracknell takes a character who, through her own cupidity gets herself tangled up in a mess of debt and deception and portrays her as a devoted wife taking assertive action. She twists her attempts to pass the blame and run away from the repercussions into a defiant act of feminist self determination. Perhaps when Ibsen first wrote the play this kind of presentation could have been excused, but now, when we are dealing with soaring divorce rates and crippling debt through vast swathes of society, it felt lazy and clichéd. A tired, guardian-stroking feminist middle-finger salute to an obsolete image of “the patriarchy” which simply doesn’t feel relevant to a modern woman of Cracknell’s generation, at least, not to this one.
 Henrick Ibsen in “The Enemy of The People” writes, “The worst enemy of truth and freedom in our society is the compact majority. Yes, the damned, compact, liberal majority”. I think he would have been rather disappointed that his work has been given such an unimaginative outing.

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