Review: A Dolls House

Henrik Ibsen’s A Dolls House is a triumph of dramatic work from one of the finest writers that we have ever had. Space Productions, under the direction of Alex Crampton, has successfully brought  Ibsen’s work to life at the Arcola Theatre. There is much to be admired, and it is certainly an intense and alluring production that – even within its closing moments – keeps the audience on the edge of their seats. It’s great to see a classic brought to life once more.

The intriguing thing about Crampton’s direction, especially the character portrayals of Nora (Gina Abolins) and Torvold Helmer (Dominik Golding), is that I whole-heartedly disliked the extremities that they were pushed to. Torvold becomes a sexist, slimy character who can’t help but disregard the intelligence of his wife, whilst  Nora at first seems protected and loved, but quickly descends into disastrously tragic. Yet whilst I disliked these approaches, they work strangely well within Crampton’s overal direction, and certainly both Golding and Abolins give dedicated performances with a wondrous skill. Perhaps these two extremities of character work so well because ultimately they can not understand each other.

Whilst Nora and Torvold are seen as the central characters here, there are exceptionally grounded portrayals of Kristine Linde by Emma Deegan and Doctor Rank by Tim Blackwell. Crampton’s directional choices within these minor characters make for a solid plot thickening, and both Deegan and Blackwell should be commended for their outstanding performances – wholly believable and natural within the characters. Whilst Crampton triumphs with some directional choices, in others I can’t help but to feel that she has tried too hard, with notable standouts being that of the ‘three Noras’ ensemble (who apparently represent a Greek Chorus and also the past, present and future), and the use of puppetry to present Nora’s children. These choices sadly do not wash with me; they continually distract from what is otherwise a gripping piece of theatre. I can understand the desire to break conventions and wanting to add a new layer with physical and puppetry work, but when it feels more of a hindrance than an aid, I worry it compromises an otherwise enjoyable production.

Irina Borisova’s set design for A Dolls House is wonderfully conceived, allowing fragments of china and keys to descend from the rigging of the Arcola Studio 2 space. Coupled with Anna Sobokou’s lighting, there is a really nice quality to the visuals. The space is still functional, but continues to allow for the imaginative qualities too.

As a whole this is a commendable piece of work, that offers a chance to explore Ibsen’s work in some deeply rooted character work and an adventurous (if a little confusing) number of devices. There are some exceptional performances, that allow for the 2 hours and 30 minutes of the production to pass by with ease, which for a classical text is often hard to achieve. Crampton delivers a challenging use of direction, and whilst I didn’t enjoy all of her choices, it is clear that work has gone into developing the characters and inner struggles within the story. A Dolls House isn’t on for much longer at the Arcola Theatre, but it is most certainly worth a look for an enjoyable evening.

A Dolls House is playing at the Arcola Theatre until 30th July. Tickets can be brought from the Arcola Theatre website.