In her fresh take on Ibsen’s 1879 play about a woman trapped in a stifling marriage, Stef Smith splits Nora’s story into three.
The three versions of the character are divided by time. One lives in 1918, one in 1968 and one in 2018. Smith interweaves and overlaps their stories with considerable dexterity while charting advancements in female enfranchisement across the last hundred years – from the acquisition of the right to vote to the potential sexual liberation of the pill – and the shifting social mores that came with them.
Smith’s writing has a strong poetic style, a bold, bodily quality; it is full of ripples and echoes. The three Noras – Anna Russell-Martin as worn-down, modern-day Nora, Natalie Klamar’s eager-to-please 1960s Nora, and Amaka Okafor as 1918 Nora – complement each other, each also taking on the role of Nora’s friend, and in one instance, potential lover, Christine.
Smith illustrates that for each step forwards, the women’s lives remain hemmed in and limited by money or its absence, and, crucially, by the needs of their own children. She’s particularly good at highlighting the role class plays in each woman’s fortune and how debt can imprison people.
Luke Norris hops nimbly between the three different versions of Nora’s overbearing husband, each equally unsympathetic. But Elizabeth Freestone’s production – first seen in Glasgow – is frustratingly restrained. It does little to distinguish visually between the time periods and feels smudgy rather than vivid in the way it presents Smith’s triptych.
While the play eloquently demonstrates that Nora’s story does not end when she steps through the door(s) – open rather than closed in Tom Piper’s set design – the coda feels heavy-handed, overstating a case the play has already made. What it does best is illustrate how change does not move in a straight line, nor benefit everyone.