You have to admire and applaud the ambition and belief of Brewery Lane Theatre in presenting a European classic in their bijou theatre in Carrick-on-Suir, such as A Doll’s House. This demanding play, by the Norwegian playwright Henrick Ibsen, from 1979 has become a masterpiece of social drama and an early theatrical example of the role of married women in a rigidly structured society. Some say it was an early and powerful example of feminist liberation, but it is a play that requires sharp direction and a stellar cast to represent a list of social themes relating to obligations to marriage and duty.
It tells the story of Nora Helmer, the wife of social climber and fastidious autocrat Torvald who has moved from being a local lawyer to bank manager. He expects his wife to be a pretty songbird and cuddly squirrel who behaves like a good wife in a gilded cage – A Doll’s House – of the title.
He experienced a period of ill-health and his dutiful wife borrowed a large sum of money to take him away to recuperate in a better climate. He thinks she has borrowed from a rich and dying father but she forged a signature on a promissory contract with a bank organised by Krogstad – a single parent and minor bank official. She has betrayed trust for noble motives and this forms the moral dilemma of the play. But it also raises issues of hypocracy, social pretence, duty of parents to children and class values.
At times the play seems too contrived and characters have hidden secrets but this was the style of the time for the well-made play with a moral ending. Ibsen used the formal structure of exposition to posit the story, development in the second act but the resolution in the final act did not conform to the social requirements and Nora walks out to be her own woman, abandons her three children (only two in this production) and morally weak husband.
This creates a moral dilemma or two that has given the work its fame for the last hundred and twenty years. Peg Power’s direction deals wonderfully with these issues and in spite of limitations of costume veracity, setting and lighting limitations, she holds up the central issues and leaves the audience to ponder the aftermath. Many times I felt that she had teased out modern resonances and made the work powerful and believable.
I had never seen a production of this play and it was a revelation. Peg Power and her cast elevated the work from some limbo of social literature to an absorbing piece of relevant theatre.
Patricia Harte was excellent as Nora and she caught so well the frivolous girlish nature trapped in the house of moral values. She embodied the hidden aspects of the character as well as tracking onboard the flirtatious nature of her chats with Dr. Rank especially in a scene with silk stockings. She also represented a romantic expectation of happy times, yet before the play ended you could see the confusion and panic and then the cold resolve to abandon children and husband to an uncertain future.
David Grant was a little too young for my image of Torvald but his moral flip-flopping was quality work and he was always believable. The children were played by Siobhan O’Meara and Oisin O’Keeffe. Jim English was wonderful as Dr. Rank who seemed complete on the outside but was apparently rotten from syphillus on the inside or tuberculosis of the lower back. Gerry Fitzgerald was a solid Krogstad in a too modern waxed coat.
Maria Clancy caught the mixed aspects of Kristine Linde out to better herself socially and Moira Clancy and Sarah Power complemented the cast.
Tom Nealon designed the set and John Denby lit it but had problems with a practical lamp. Walter Dunphy made an excellent end of show speech as this wonderful company set out to raise E70,000 to modernise the premises. They value theatre and music in Carrick and the community value the makers of theatre and that is why you get such a great productions as this A Doll’s House.