Tag Archive | "A Doll’s House"

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Review: Rutherford and Son

Posted on 07 June 2013 by Daniel Janes

Rutherford and SonRutherford and Son, Northern Broadsides’s revival of a muscular Edwardian drama, arrives in the West End with a timeliness that is almost mystical. Yes, there are historical parallels; the play is set amidst a backdrop of economic and industrial decline, and the titular industrialist rues the banks for being unwilling to lend. However, these issues are no more pertinent than they were in, say, 2010. The real factors that make the timing so “curiously relevant” – to borrow a phrase from guest director Jonathan Miller – are twofold. First, the theatrical climate: this thoroughly Ibsenian work emerges onto a London stage in the midst of an Ibsen revival. Second, and most significantly, it coincides with a totemic anniversary: the death of Emily Wilding Davison and an attendant commemoration of all things Suffragette.

The Suffragette factor is essential, as it is the feminist angle that makes Rutherford and Son exceptional. Indeed, the play was written by a female Fabian and suffragist, Githa Sowerby; after the huge success of the play’s premiere in 1912, the critic from The Daily Telegraph retracted his positive review after he found out that she was female.

This leads us to the apparent paradox at the centre of Rutherford and Son, both the play and this production: it is dominated by an overbearing Edwardian patriarch, but at heart it belongs to the women. Northern Broadsides’s artistic director Barrie Rutter plays John Rutherford Sr, a despotic widower who heads a failing glassworks empire in Yorkshire (relocated from the original Tyneside). He rules over a household with “not a scrap of love in it”, emasculating his feckless sons and humiliating his crushed spinster daughter, Janet (Sara Poyser). Rutter is a force of nature, electrifying the stage in the role; bullying and bombastic, he brings the full force of Rutherford’s tyranny to bear while simultaneously hinting at his inner vulnerability.

However, there is no paradox if we appreciate the play for what it is: an Ibsen-inflected study of male domestic tyranny. Even the ending is a radical spin on A Doll’s House. Each of the play’s female characters is fighting her own struggle against the limitations of her gender, and it is they who truly constitute the play’s centre of gravity. Sara Poyser’s Janet gives the most furious speech of the play as she asserts her sexual independence against her father’s disdain; Catherine Kinsella, as Rutherford’s working-class daughter-in-law, Mary, makes an astonishing transition from meek houseguest to steely power broker. Comedy veteran Jonathan Miller also uses the women as a welcome vessel for humour, whether through the sarcastic wit of Janet or the plain-speaking interjections of Rutherford’s sister Ann (Kate Anthony).

Isabella Bywater’s dark period production design accentuates the pervasive atmosphere of oppressiveness, an oppressiveness that Miller effectively conveys through the skilful use of silences – most effectively in an intense dinner table scene where the patrician Rutherford tries to ignore the existence of the working-class Mary. Only in Blake Morrison’s occasionally unsubtle updating of the original text does the production slightly fall short; it is not necessary, for instance, for Rutherford to repeat the Victorian mantra of “life is work” when this attitude is already evident from his speeches. However, this is but a minor hiccup in a barnstorming production – and, unlike the narrow-minded Telegraph critic a hundred years ago, this is an opinion that I shall not retract.

Rutherford and Son runs at the St James Theatre until 29 June. See the St James Theatre website for more information.

Daniel Janes

Daniel Janes

Daniel Janes is currently working on a documentary for BBC Two. He has blogged about arts, culture and history for Huffington Post UK and the New Statesman.

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Review: The 8th Wave

Posted on 09 April 2013 by Daniel Harrison

8th-Wave-web3Young theatrical talent is a very delicate thing. Up-and-coming writers, directors and performers need to be nurtured, supported and encouraged by those who have already cut their teeth in the industry. They need space, literally and metaphorically, to explore, experiment and create. Nothing sums this up better than The 8th Wave, which boasts a wealth of creative hands on deck, and has been given the opportunity to shine by The Space, a cosy and intimate arts venue on the Isle of Dogs.

Brian (Francis Adams) is a thoroughly insular and isolated figure; a shopkeeper frustrated by what he sees to be society’s ills, the something-for-nothing culture he reads about in The Daily Mail. When teenage Mathew (Alex Payne) breaks into his shop, Brian takes him captive, using Mathew as a vent for all that he believes to be wrong with the world. But Brian and Mathew have more in common than is first apparent, both are desperately lonely and share a burning desire to have something better than their meagre lot. An unlikely camaraderie and friendship blossoms, as each feeds off each the other in search of a better life.

The 8th Wave is a highly charged and intense affair. Moments of deafening silence are interrupted by the buzzing of a fly or the unintentional off-stage noises that penetrate The Space. These actually add to the piece, a passing police car or fragments of conversation reminding the audience, as well as Brian and Mathew, perhaps, that there is still an outside world. Writer James Ernest comments on this as well, for him, The Space “has a rawness about it… the rustic feel adding to the play itself”.

There is a poetic charm about Ernest’s writing, his characters speak with a naturalistic fluidity that sees memories and emotions visited and revisited at various points, thoughts are either pondered on, for instance on childhood visits to the dentist or buying sweets, or dismissed straight away, such as the power of the police to help either party; Brian and Mathew are thoroughly detailed and complex individuals. Unfortunately the writing at times meanders a little and feels slightly clunky; references to Brian as being little more than “a beverage dispenser” is a little unsatisfying, for instance.

The poetry present in the script extends to the staging, too; the cardboard boxes that make up Brian’s room are used to create a life-size rowing boat, which juts out into the audience, blurring distinctions between performance space and audience seating. There is beauty in this, the message that is understood is that Brian always had the resources to achieve betterment at his disposal.

Whilst The 8th Wave may feel a little undercooked and naive at times, in many ways it is the combination of creative talent united through the production that is on display here. James Ernest, a graduate of the Soho Theatre’s Young Writers Programme, has a natural ability that will surely be honed and moulded for future writing, and Dom Mc Camphill’s fledgling new theatre company Disturbance, set up on the ethos of “developing and producing unconventional and challenging new work”, will surely go from strength to strength. Co-director Luke Lutterer recently earned plaudits assisting on the award-winning A Doll’s House at the Young Vic and has a creative vision which belies his tender years. Keep an eye on Disturbance and these individuals, they may well be theatre’s future.

The 8th Wave is on at The Space until 13 April. For more information and tickets, see The Space website.

Daniel Harrison

Daniel Harrison

A graduate of Theatre Studies, Daniel has worked in a number of different areas within theatre, most recently cutting his teeth with the Communications team at BAC. He is currently Project Assistant for the Young Vic's upcoming Schools Theatre Festival, and is a champion of the power of theatre as a force for good within society.

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Review: St John’s Night

Posted on 14 July 2012 by Alice Saville

Staging an Ibsen play which the playwright disowned in later life as a reworking of a student acquaintance’s “rough mess of a draft” might seem like asking for trouble. Sponsored by the Norwegian Embassy, this early work sees Ibsen not entirely successfully trade his later naturalism for goblin whimsy and a preoccupation with the nature of national and local identity.

The play purports to be based on Shakespeare’s  A Midsummer Night’s Dream, and the rather Renaissance device of a magical punch, which acts as a proto-pharmaceutical loosener, opening the younger characters’ hearts and minds to their true desires. Punch aside, though, magic is as peripheral to this play as its goblins, who spend their time interminably tuning up instruments in the attic without ever really being integrated into the action. Ibsen has swapped Shakespeare’s fairies for property deeds, with the legal wrangling so crucial in his later plays here providing a rather bizarre counterpoint to the Midsummer revels of the Norwegian villagers. Danny Lee Wynter (Poulson) does a wonderful job of making his jaundiced critic character both irritating and likeable, as he pompously misinterprets the distant symbolic drama by bonfire-light as a scene of urbane gentility, or his host’s garden as a rural wilderness. His ideological counterpoint Anne (Louise Calf), steeped in folklore and unable to escape her childhood memories, does a good line in wild-eyed naivety with some real heart behind it, bridging the distance between her well-heeled party guests and the native traditions they visit for one night, like tourists.

Having recently enjoyed the playwright Simon Stephen’s lively translation of A Doll’s House at the Young Vic, the translation used here (by Ibsen scholar James McFarlane) seems over-literal, and lacking in lyricism and dramatic movement. This has the result that the play often feels like heavy going in the way that Ibsen often is, but without the emotional or ideological pay-off. Big ideas about nation and culture are thrown about, but scarcely resolved, with the critic Poulson shooting theories into the air like clay pigeons, bound to fall down even without the derision of the other characters. Nationalism is in fact, though the word is frequently bandied about, something of a red herring in this play. What Ibsen is exploring is not the statesmanship and grand nation-building projects that the play’s language implies, but rather the lighter and softer nuances of native Norwegian culture and localism – a more attractive proposition, and one which should be more clearly signposted in the translation. The play’s strongest moments explore the magic invested in specific places and the memories that fill them, rather than national differences; the richly layered bonfire scene, which benefits from magical lighting by  Richard Howell, emphasises the importance of shared memory and tradition, while its action is driven by the rituals and traditions of Midsummer night.

There is much to charm here; the complex, multi-layered set by James Perkins adds real character, although the tight spaces it creates do somewhat hobble the Midsummer dances, and the snatches of song that characters share, echoing and commenting on their own situations, add moments of real beauty. Still, though, the script is as airy and insubstantial as a half-remembered folksong. With none of Ibsen’s later emotional impact, this script is itching to be extended into a promenade garden show full of music and magic; in the close confines of a studio, it feels too cramped to satisfy.

St John’s Night is running at Jermyn Street Theatre until 4 August. For more information see their website.

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Review: A Doll’s House

Posted on 11 July 2012 by Catherine Love

There is an apt, echoing emptiness to the rooms of this Doll’s House. In the Young Vic’s new production of Ibsen’s domestic masterpiece, the superficial marital home of Nora and Torvald is built on a revolve, with Ian MacNeil’s exquisite set boxing the characters in between glass-filled frames as the ground beneath them shifts. Everything is suitably beautiful yet impersonal, evoking a swan-like aura of surface calm while the currents of change churn below.

A similar tension between surface poise and inner turmoil seeps through the whole of director Carrie Cracknell’s delicately constructed production, which seems almost to be holding its breath. As Nora, Hattie Morahan’s voice rings – albeit sometimes a little shrilly – with hollow yet beguiling emotion, underscored with the lightest tinge of desperation. There is an equal, barely perceptible layer of strain to Dominic Rowan’s impressive performance as Torvald, affecting an occasionally forced if amiable enough charm that gradually tips into the unsavoury as he seeks to control his wife.

For all that it seems rested on an emotional knife’s edge, there is an unexpected flavour of humour to Simon Stephens’ new translation. Laughter infects Nora and Torvald’s early game playing, a natural extension of the claustrophobically false and childish atmosphere of their marriage, but also crops up at surprising and troubling moments. In one of the bolder moves of an essentially safe if beautifully executed production, Stephens and Cracknell seem to be gently prodding at the idea that we still might be amused by a husband patronising his wife and the implications of such an uncomfortable idea.

The intrinsic theatricality of Ibsen’s play is also teased out in this version, in which performance and gaze are central. Morahan’s Nora is repeatedly watched by the men on stage, for whom she is always putting on a performance, be it cooing girlishly for Torvald or frantically dancing the tarantella under a twitching spotlight. For both husband and wife, there is something uncomfortably performative about the state of marriage. This effect is heightened by MacNeil’s slowly turning set, freezing beautiful but ephemeral snapshots of family life as the rooms glide past.

The female protagonist, meanwhile, cannot get away from her own reflection. Moving from initial vacuous, mirror-gazing vanity, Morahan’s image begins to fragment through reflections in the inescapable panes of glass, until finally Nora sees herself and her life for what they truly are. This troubled journey towards self-knowledge is distilled in a captivating central performance by Morahan. As a woman on the brink of crisis, she is by turns flirtatious and agitated, a humming conductor of restless energy that is forcefully channelled into deception before finally exploding with devastating impact.

Cracknell’s emotionally taut production is full of moments that hang in the air, briefly raising the possibility of a different outcome before snagging on the present and crashing back down. Early on there is a held breath of silence between Nora and Torvald, a rare meeting of eyes that hints at the potential for a meeting of minds; in the final scene, a similar moment of suspension between husband and wife follows Nora’s assertion that she is leaving, Morahan’s eyes wide as she visibly digests the words that have escaped her lips. When the possibility of reconciliation has fluttered away and those words have been allowed to shatter the pretty fiction of the family home, Ibsen’s denouement is more forceful than ever.

A Doll’s House will be running at the Young Vic until 29 July. More information can be found on its website.

Catherine Love

Catherine Love

Catherine is a freelance arts journalist, editor and copywriter. She is one of the editors of Exeunt and has written for publications such as The Guardian, The Stage, Time Out and IdeasTap, as well as working with organisations including Fuel.

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