Hamilton Wilson's new version of Ibsen's A Doll's House has been specially commissioned for this year's Hostry Festival in the precincts of Norwich Cathedral. It plays very well and is honest with both the period of the drama's composition (1870s) and the understanding of a 21st century audience.
The central performance by Rebecca Aldred as Nora catches most of the aspects of the heroine – you can see why the men in her life (deceased father, banker husband, ailing physician friend) have treated her as a decorative plaything, an ornament for other (mostly masculine) lives. Her eventual awakening to the responsibilities she has hitherto ignored doesn't disguise that she is at least partially their cause – not just their victim.
It's hard to make Torvald Helmer sympathetic, though Evan Ryder's characterisation suggests the insecurities behind the urbane exterior. Peter Beck's production is fast-paced for the first half, then somehow the tension slackens in the second, notably in the reconciliation scene between Sally Campion-Jones' Kristine and Chris Ellis' Nils Krogstad, and takes time to pick up momentum.
Doctor Rank, whose medical knowledge makes his physical decline (caused, as Oswald's is in Ghosts, through inherited syphilis) even more acute – because fully understood – than it would be for a layman, is played by Peter Barrow as one of life's lookers-in, accepted as good company – even as a confidant – but somehow never completely integrated.
There's a very good set, to which the cathedral's shadow and bell sounds make a suitable backdrop; these characters are in an urban environment. Nora's costumes are deliberately over-elaborate until the final scene with Torvald, and Campion-Jones is very much the new woman in hers, throwing off her mourning as she at last gains both professional and domestic employment.