A hundred years after Henrik Ibsen scandalised audiences with the story of a woman walking out on her family, Nora in A Doll's House still feels subversive.
The conflict between duty and desire inspires a nuanced new play by Scottish writer Stef Smith. Nora: A Doll's House re-imagines Ibsen's drama over different generations: 1918, 1968 and 2018. There are, we are told, ‘three different and distinct lives’, but the time frames entwine to tell the single story of a Nora Helmer, wife and mother whose domestic situation gives way to domesticity.
Through three different Noras, each contending with the gender limitations of her own era, the play looks at how much (and little) has changed for women in the past century. Tom Piper’s abstract, in-the-round set design evokes home with doorways and chairs as the narrative flits fluidly between the Noras.
Amaka Okafor is a well-heeled Edwardian Nora, who enthuses about her newly won suffrage and dips her finger into a rationed bag of sugar for a thrill. Family fortunes are looking up now her husband has recovered from his battle traumas and got a lucrative job as a bank manager.
Natalie Klamar is an excitable Nora who has a pocket full of pills to help her cope. She’s sheltered from the 60s' sexual revolution by the drudgery of middle-class domesticity. Her old-fashioned husband was pushed to breaking point by the slipping social standards, but is back on track and working as a bank clerk.
Anna Russell-Martin is a cash-strapped 21st-century Nora, who secretly swigs whiskey and overspends to make her kids happy. After being stymied by depression and anxiety, her husband has an entry-level job in a bank.
When an old friend arrives, then a shady acquaintance dredges up Nora’s secrets, we discover the real cost of providing for a family against the odds. Blackmail, guilt and panic spiral, hitting with equal force in each of the play’s three decades as all three Noras give heart-wrenching performances.
Stef Smith’s text weaves in Ibsen’s poetic motifs of freedom and constraint with a more urgent indictment of so-called progress. In exposing the timelessness of A Doll’s House, Smith also forces us to confront the oppressions that remain, a century later.
The woman living in 2018 has the least choice and the least freedom. And so this powerful play ends with a call to arms as the three Noras turn to each other then turn to the audience to vow that this cycle of limitation and desperation, that has played out over three generations, will finally end.
|What||Nora: A Doll's House, the Young Vic review|
|Where||The Young Vic, 66 The Cut, Waterloo, London, SE1 8LZ | MAP|
|Nearest tube||Southwark (underground)|
06 Feb 20 – 21 Mar 20, 7:30 PM – 10:00 PM
|Website||Click here for tickets|