Unhappy and unequal marriages exist anywhere there are people. Social realism, as a dramatic genre, can be carted from here to Timbuktu. But can you transpose Nordic gloom to the Indian subcontinent? Or is ‘location, location, location’ as much a mantra for drama adapters as it is for frenetic TV property experts?
This is the challenge faced by Tanika Gupta in her new Indian version of Ibsen’s A Doll’s House, alive with the squawks of parrots and jabber of monkeys.
Perhaps one measure of success would be to leave me as downcast as the play’s poor protagonist, who at one point starts a countdown to killing herself. But actually I felt more like Morrissey of the Smiths, swanning around with a bunch of drooping flowers singing Heaven Knows I’m Miserable Now and revelling in it.
This is not to say the misery is fake or the social realism less acute than in a cold climate setting, or that Christmas – when the play is set – is any less a source of tension in a place where the temperature reaches 27 degrees centigrade. Gupta has been very clever in retaining the 1879 setting, but accentuating the inequities of a married woman of the time – in Norway, she would have been able to inherit property, but her husband would have had control of her wealth – by making her the Indian wife of a British administrator in Calcutta.
So Nora becomes Niru (Indira Varma), and husband Torvald is Tom (Toby Stephens), whose sneery endearments – “Has my little Indian princess been out buying jewels again?” – make sense when translated to this context.
The disparity between them is down to class and race as much as gender. When Niru’s husband faces shame as he learns she has forged a signature to obtain an essential loan, he reveals his true self, with Stephens flipping easily into a cold patriarch. But the revelation of this production, directed by Nadia Molinari, is the unmasking of Niru as a far from empty-headed little thing, who takes a bigger cultural leap than that of her Norwegian counterpart. Varma rises to the challenge, becoming glacial and unbending as she goes into a self-imposed solo exile.
Written not much later, in 1897, Bram Stoker’s Dracula reflects the ethos of colonialism but also the Victorian fascination with the macabre. Director Jessica Dromgoole and adapter Rebecca Lenkiewicz infuse this carnival of horror with an incredible pace, as a band of high-born and intellectual characters pursue monsters and lunatics across the evocative landscapes of Transylvania and Whitby like something out of a John Buchan thriller.
Cutting straight to the chase, we are immediately introduced to the fly-swallowing madman Renfield (Don Gilet). The asylum scenes are some of the most imaginative, with insects buzzing in the fetid atmosphere.
Nicky Henson plays Count Dracula with a deep, dark voice of the night. His bloodsucking meetings with Lucy (Scarlett Brookes) are highly erotic. Set in an era when vibrators were coming into wide use – often medically – the play’s emphasis on the sexual responses of women, rather than men, makes complete sense. This is monster-making of the three-dimensional kind.
The Air Gap, featuring a fearless lead performance by Greg Wohead, is based on the continuing drama of US private Bradley Manning, arrested for releasing restricted military material, including a video of the 2007 US helicopter strike of Iraqi civilians. Steve Waters’ play is both even-handed and a terrible indictment of repression of the truth, enhanced by enthralling and ambitious sound and music by Alisdair McGregor and Howard Jacques.
A Doll’s House, R3, Sunday, October 7
Dracula, R4, Sunday, October 14
The Air Gap, R4, Saturday, October 6