I see no reason to dispute the programme’s assertion that “Ibsen is acknowledged as the father of modern drama”, but there were times during West Yorkshire Playhouse’s A Doll's House when modernity was the last thought in my mind. Certainly the ideas about women’s independence and the nature of marriage were advanced for 1879 – and the serious debate on these issues that closes the play (before an unnecessary directorial flourish) is by far the most involving part of the evening.
However, the way in which the issues are worked through sometimes seems pretty close to old-fashioned melodrama. The initial situation is challenging and closely based on a true story. Nora, devoted to her husband Torvald, has forged a signature to secure the loan needed to take him south for the good of his precarious health. Now, years later, with Torvald healthy and newly prosperous, Krogstad, the original lender, is about to be sacked from his job by Torvald, and the happy family is threatened by blackmail and disgrace. The key to Ibsen’s thinking (and Nora’s actions) comes in the husband’s reactions to learning the truth, a powerful climax to a production that has been rather less convincing in the earlier stages.
Maybe the plotting is creakier than I recall, though I have not felt this in other recent Ibsen revivals. Maybe Christopher Hampton’s version, clear and idiomatic as it is, allows too many portentous anticipations of disaster and brief despairing soliloquies to creep in. However, I suspect that Matthew Lloyd’s capable and stylish production is largely responsible.
Though she effectively conveys an impression of strength beneath Nora’s giddy exterior, Tanya Moodie’s over-emphatic delivery disturbs the balance of the first two acts, a tendency shared by John Lightbody whose Torvald really makes sense only in the drunken relaxation into well-meaning boorishness in the last act. Paul Goodwin makes something of the terminally ill Dr. Rank, but it’s slightly odd that the most human figures should be the initially creepy Krogstad (Michael Matus) and Nora’s unfortunate friend Mrs. Linde (Sarah Tansey).
Peter McKintosh’s set and costumes, based on an elegant shade of grey, match perfectly and the occasional sight of the hallway and Torvald’s study behind the drawing-room is a neat touch. However, the long thin rectangle of the furniture-filled main room inhibits natural movement and grouping – and, despite its strengths, naturalness is what this production desperately needs.