‘All happy families are alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way’ – yet often that fundamental unhappiness remains latent at first, lurking under the trivialities of daily domestic life. So it is with Nora Helmer, confined to her living room and treated by her husband as a ‘doll wife’, she happily and obediently plays her prescribed part until a sudden crisis snaps her awake. Henrik Ibsen’s A Doll’s House ingeniously sets apart a woman’s struggle for emancipation and – ultimately – genuine love against the background of an oppressive patriarchy and bourgeois hypocrisy. The message is clear: a woman cannot be herself in modern society, because her conduct is judged from an exclusively male perspective.
With the #MeToo revelations, the fight for equal rights in the workplace, and shifting attitudes towards traditional marriage, now seems the perfect moment for a modern adaptation of A Doll’s House. Unfortunately, contemporary issues are not interwoven or even subtly hinted at in Sour’s Peach production. Instead, it transposes Ibsen’s play to the eve of the sexual revolution, while sticking rather loyally to the original script. The decor is a single fifties style living room, and the characters speak as if straight out of the twenties. Despite all its relevance, the dated setting takes away from the familiarity of Nora’s situation. In its original form, it is quite apparent that Ibsen’s play has not aged well.
This is by no means due to the skill of the actors: they play their roles to their full potential. With long pauses and apprehensive glances backwards, Ceidra Murphy ably expresses Nora’s psychological state, hanging between disillusion and hope, nostalgia and wilful forgetting. Her internal revolt and outward obedience are most notably harmonised in a wild yet powerful dancing scene. Flinn Andreae has the audience sympathise with the cynical Krogstad by showing him to be as much of a victim of society as Nora is. James Akka and Staś Butler provide some comic relief with their portrayals of the absurdly stiff husband and the equally ridiculous and morbid doctor. Last but certainly not least, Susannah Townsend’s Christine balances a tight rope between resignation and resolve: it is unclear whether her character is reinforcing gender stereotypes or subtly subverting them.
The band is excellent, but could arguably have been used to a greater extent. While a mixture of jazz and rock – including an Elvis parody – fits with the sixties background, it did not fully connect with the unfolding drama. Further, while the few changes to the original script were overall minor and trivial, two alterations in the final act stood out. The iconic ending of Ibsen’s play – the heavy slamming of the door – was notably absent, as was the equally iconic phrase ‘the miracle of miracles’. Performing in the Pitch studio of course has its limitations: nevertheless, as Sour Peach has chosen to remain relatively close to the Ibsen play, it is surprising to see some of the most famous moments from A Doll’s House cut out.
Though not a miracle of a play, the production has its powerful moments and is worthy of Ibsen’s legacy. Anyone wishing to see an iconic play brought to life in the time when its message of emancipation and self-realisation is again relevant, stroll down Jowett Walk for Sour Peach’s production of A Doll’s House!