“Elysium Theatre Company certainly did not disappoint in their true-to-the-text interpretation of this Norwegian classic”
The story of an indebted woman destroyed by her secret; Henrik Ibsen’s A Doll’s House is sure to make an impression on any audience. For this reason, perhaps, the Elysium Theatre Company stays true to the original 19th century setting of the play, allowing director Jake Murray to explore the tragic downfall of the naïve but headstrong Nora in its original context.
Ibsen’s plays often centre on strong female parts and Hannah Ellis Ryan’s impersonation of Nora pays tribute to the playwright’s exquisite characterisation of a woman doomed to suffer. She is to be commended for her captivating stage presence, especially given her leading role in every scene. Her mannerisms add a refreshing lightness to this character surrounded by an atmosphere of oppression, created in great part by her misogynistic husband, Torvald (Danny Solomon). The highlight of her performance comes perhaps a few moments before the interval, as the accumulation of nerves and tension shared by the actors and audience alike explodes in Nora’s exhilarating and somewhat unnerving Tarantella.
Male characters are by no means left behind. Solomon delivers a memorable performance as the detestable Torvald. It is easy with such a repugnant role to caricature a character, but Solomon does not, and instead adds moments of humour and ingenuity to his part; some might even admire Torvald’s initial wariness of falling into debt. Robin Kingsland’s more comedic portrayal of the crippled Dr Rank also deserves praise – he is very convincing as he oscillates between an amusing and more pathetic figure, especially in his conversations with Nora.
As a play constructed exclusively in dialogue, the chemistry between actors is essential to deliver a strong performance. Ellis Ryan and Solomon are very successful in this; Solomon’s condescending ways towards his wife seem to imbue Ellis Ryan’s performance with greater strength still and portray Nora (quite rightly) as resilient, rather than a frivolous ‘little songbird’. The complex dynamics developed by this duo rather outshine those of Nora and the unlucky Krogstad (Michael Blair). Blair’s performance lacks depth and an added element of malice or menace towards Nora amid his desperation would elevate this multi-faceted character.
The emphasis on dialogue in the play also adds the challenge of maintaining an engaging pace throughout; a challenge well-faced by the actors whose constant movement across the stage galvanises the exchanges. However, some conversations, notably those between Nora and Christine (Heather Carrol), Nora’s impoverished childhood friend, feel rather static and slow the pace. Thankfully, the energetic entrances and exits and booming voices of Torvald and Dr Rank quickly reinject the play with vitality.
Finally, the imposing Christmas tree placed centre-stage could itself almost pass as a character, adding an ironic note of festive joy to this tragedy, and, when enhanced by the warm lighting, reminds the audience of the homely comfort which will inevitably be lost. Similarly, the directorial choice to include recordings of Nora and her children talking merrily during the opening of the play and in scene transitions is an ingenious way to keep the family unit involved in the consequences of the disastrous marriage.
Elysium Theatre Company certainly did not disappoint in their true-to-the-text interpretation of this Norwegian classic. It might, at points, feel a little long, but the cast’s textbook performances alone are enough do justice to Ibsen’s genius.
Written by a Durham University student
Image credits: Jake Rusby
A Doll’s House is performing at the Assembly Rooms Theatre until Saturday 8th October