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Review: A Doll's House

Theatre

Perhaps the best loved of all Ibsen's plays, A Doll's House is like a glorious onion. It opens on the smooth and shiny surface of a marriage and gradually peels away layer after layer till it reaches the rotten brown centre.

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Considering Ibsen penned his multi-layered expose of female oppression well over a century ago, it’s shocking to see how relevant the issues still are.

State Theatre’s exciting new adaptation moves the 19th-century Norwegian drama to modern-day Australia, yet playwright Elena Carapetis has had to change little beyond setting, language and minor plot details; the key issues of money equating to power and the sacrificial role of women in a patriarchal society are all too familiar to a contemporary audience.

However, it’s clear from the start that this is no traditional interpretation.

The curtain is raised on Nora (Miranda Daughtry) centre stage, her backdrop a bank of stage lights in grid formation, reminiscent of the game Battleships or perhaps cross-stitch material.

Geoff Cobham’s masterful set design also incorporates a stage within a stage, a blue platform revolving so slowly to begin with that you hardly notice, reflecting the subtle spinning of the patriarchal cogs within society and providing an arena for the “performance” of Nora and Torvald’s relationship.

A stage within a stage. Photo: Andy Rasheed

Initially, the couple seem very much in love and ridiculously happy. Christmas is coming and Torvald (Dale March) has just been offered a highly paid job in a bank; their money worries are finally over. But there’s something not quite right about Nora’s coquettish flirting, Torvald’s infantilising of his wife and the pair’s almost pornographic obsession with money.

As new characters arrive on stage we learn more about the festering secrets beneath the outer skin of their relationship. Torvald’s domination and sexual objectification of his wife become more apparent and Nora, too, has her secrets. Unknown to Torvald, she is heavily in debt and, what’s worse, she has forged a signature to get security for the loan.

As the layers peel away, their relationship becomes increasingly fraught, culminating in a confrontational scene when Torvald discovers Nora’s lie.

Miranda Daughtry and Dale March as Nora and Torvald. Photo: Andy Rasheed

There are strong performances from each of the cast but Daughtry is the one who truly shines. She portrays the deep complexities of Nora’s character with captivating charm, at once submissive and on the edge of mania.

The dance scenes are equally mesmerising, from Nora and her daughter Emmy (Clio Tinsley) dancing to Kendrick Lamar (the repeated refrain “Bitch sit down, be humble” is a stinging reminder of the ongoing subjugation of women) to the beautifully choreographed tarantella, Nora’s highly sexualised performance for Torvald and Lars, which descends into wild hysteria.

Clever writing from Carapetis and powerful direction from Geordie Brookman has transformed this multi-layered, 19th-century classic into a many-faceted, 21st-century Christmas bauble, beautifully complex and endlessly mesmerising.

State Theatre Company’s A Doll’s House is playing at the Dunstan Playhouse until July 22. Read InDaily’s interview with playwright Elena Carapetis here.

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