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A Doll’s House

Published Wednesday 20 May 2009 at 12:00 by Jeremy Austin

Clever and prescient, then, of Zinnie Harris to turn Ibsen’s banker and wife into a politician newly brought into the cabinet.

Thus, the talk of fraud and of “the only thing a politician has is trust” is more timely than can possibly have been hoped for.

Of course, it makes little difference to the intent of the play - a thorn in the side of the establishment when it was originally written in the late 19th century as it depicted women as having their own minds and winning despite the perceived immorality of their actions.

This production still retains some of that power. Gillian Anderson’s Nora, the ‘good wife’ of Toby Stephen’s upstanding politician Thomas, has a Hepburn-esque whine in her voice (Audrey not Katharine) and plays well the ditsy hausfrau.

Her English accent (her original accent - although born in the US she lived in London until 11) has always been more convincing than her American, and here she delivers lines as if from a forties movie. Somehow she gets away with it, possibly because she draws down deep from within her character to find the passion, anger and strength to make her departure a powerful scene.

Stephens’ Thomas has the infuriating self-righteousness that David Cameron probably parades around at home. He is both in love with and detached from his wife, a marriage to his job that makes his eventual undoing somehow seem inevitable. Stephens achieves the balance. His breakdown is heartfelt and defines all that his character has done before.

Eccleston’s Kelman, here an MP whose career has been destroyed in the wake of fraud allegations, is appropriately out of place. His thick Manchester accent a pewter tankard among the cut-glass voices of the rest of the cast. But this extends to his relationship with the audience. He plays him brash and punchy but there is at no time any sympathy for the character and he fails to generate a third dimension. Not even when Tara Fitzgerald, as the widowed Christine, declares her love for the man she might have saved from breaking. Christine is a stiff old maid, whose life has made her elderly before her time, and while Fitzgerald lets her warm heart beat through, the declaration of love for Kelman never quite rings true. It gives the final act of the play a slightly cobbled together feel.

Anton Lesser too, never quite conveys the lasciviousness of Doctor Rank, despite obtusely reminding the audience that “tuberculosis of the spine” was a euphemism for syphilis.

Kfir Yefet seems to have concentrated too much on the two principals leaving the rest of the cast to try their own devices. It leaves blurred edges around the tightly-focused centre.

Production information

Donmar Warehouse, London, May 14-July 18

Henrik Ibsen, adapted by Zinnie Harris
Kfir Yefet
Donmar Warehouse
Gillian Anderson, Toby Stephens, Maggie Wells, Tara Fitzgerald, Christopher Eccleston, Anton Lesser
Running time:
2hrs 30mins

Production information displayed was believed correct at time of review. Information may change over the run of the show.

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Run sheet

King's Head, Islington London
January 24-February 15 2014