This production is the latest example of the bold programming by Sutton Arts Theatre. Straight plays always have to work harder to win an audience than other theatrical genres, and period writing has to work harder still. Yet “ A Doll’s House” is one of the most performed plays of all time and Ibsen competes with Shakespeare as the most performed playwright. Written 135 years ago, its examination of women, marriage, and the human condition endures.
Central to any successful performance of this play is the part of Nora. One of the best parts ever written for a woman, she is on stage throughout, has numerous monologues and has to carry, and lead, the emotions of the drama. Michelle Dawes as Nora does just that. Beautiful, fretful, wilful, and doubtful, her stunning luscious costumes provide a visual focus to a compelling performance which oozes paranoia and panic before resolution.
Opposite her Stuart Goodwin as her husband Torvald is wide-eyed and soppy, oblivious to his wife’s financial problems and emotional needs. It’s a difficult task, playing the part of a devoted husband to an emotionally estranged wife, but Goodwin pulls it off. His final bewilderment at his abandonment was particularly poignant.
Dan Payne is as dour as a debt collector should be, and Bhupinder Dhamu, friend and finally reconciled wife does well to tackle a range of responses in quite a short amount of dialogue. Allan Lane (Dr Jens Rank) Nora’s doomed admirer is dapper, and reserved barely able to contain his desire for Nora, not least when she teases him with the stockings she intends to wear for the party. Libby Allport is bright and breezy as the housekeeper and sometime playmate of energetic children, enthusiastically played by Luke Flaherty and Leo Butts.
John Islip and his team have produced a bright dolls house effect single set with pink walls and Scandinavian pine complete with hand- made fireplace and HMV style record player. Director Ian Appleby sets the action in period by costume but there are no cod Norwegian accents to distract although the icy bite to the wind as I walked to the theatre added an extra Nordic air of authenticity to proceedings. The pace is brisk, the focus on character incessant.
Although in modern 21st century Western Society it is impossible to recreate the shock that a woman walking out on her husband, children and social position would have created then, the themes of marriage, money and secrets are timeless. Nora’s attitude to money would find favour with any contemporary Greek Finance Minister, Torvald’s handling of his trophy wife, strong on small talk, weak on substance, is painfully well portrayed by husband and wife.
A strong, powerful production of a very good play, “A Doll’s House” runs until Saturday 14th February