'Nora: A Doll's House' at The Young Vic

March 10, 2020

Elizabeth Freestone stages an outstanding adaptation of one of Henrik Ibsen’s most famous play 'Nora: A Doll's House', reworked by Stef Smith. 

 

Nora is a banker’s housewife, mother of three children. She spends most of her days in a small living room, watching her kids playing by the window. Christmas is about to come. She found the perfect balance in a lavender smelling house, she fits in or so she told Kristine, her friend. In fact, Nora is constantly either sexualized or patronized. She carries a huge mental charge, secrets and a high pressure as she is being blackmailed. Nathan, one of her husband’s employee, is about to reveal compromising layers of the past.

 

Photo Credit: Marc Brenner 

 

In this production Nora's living room is hardly furnished. It is like a mental space more than a place she can actually inhabit. She wanders without ever finding a place to stay. As she accumulates thoughts in the rooms, it gets tinier, stuffy. Everything has been chosen by her husband. The furniture, the colour of the wall… He has been so undertaking in the decision-making that she no longer knows what her own taste is. Her identity is split. Stef Smith could hardly make this clearer as three actresses play Nora at the same time: Natalie Klamar, Amaka Okafor and Anna Russell-Martin.

 

She is split between 1918, 1968 and 2018 and she is all at once. Her identity is blurred because she is lost, torn apart between people she must please to. But the multiplicity comes from her complex identity, divided between past expectations, roles she is supposed to fit in and desires she can't truly get yet. Although Nora's identity, appearance, accent and costume are constantly shifting, her husband remains the same. He is the intemporal man tied to his privileges, sticking to an outdated vision of marriage and more broadly of women.

 

She is a beloved wife, constantly trying to please her husband. Trying to be his "songbird" and whatever it implies. She is the object of his desire. Speaking up is whining. He keeps patronising her as she expresses doubts, concerns about her situation. As Nora(s) keep talking, we can’t help but feel that she can’t have a say.

 

As the wife of an influential man, she is to carry the burden of men's despair, be it her husband's or Nathan's, one of the employees he is about to fire. Although she is not responsible for Nathan's situation, she has to bear both his blackmail and his emotional burden. His threats are dangling over her head as Damocles' sword, literally as a huge bright square keeps shining above the stage.

 

Still, she has to stay by the window as her kids are playing. She is a mother, before anything. Being upset is being careless. She is always reminded to be more careful. Watching the outside world with getting a chance to go for it. Sure the living room is a warm safe space but still quickly smothering. In a way, she is trapped. In this narrow living room, the beloved songbird is encaged. With Elizabeth Freestone's symmetrical sense of space, Nora's perfect house turns into a nightmare. 

 

Throughout the play, Nora is split between expectations, epochs. At the end, her multiplicity is a strength as she gets her empowerment out of it. The sisterhood generated on stage helps Nora to walk through the door to discover a hostile world she has not experienced anything of. The unbearable cycle can be broken by the empowering triangle Smith created. Through this bold idea, the play’s urgency and necessity are set back in pristine condition and 'Nora: A Doll's House' is made still terrifyingly relevant.

 

 

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