Messing about with Ibsen has become a bit of a trend lately, and playwright Zinnie Harris follows a misfired update (not hers) of Hedda Gabler at the Gate with a not totally convincing re-write of A Doll's House as an Edwardian political sob story with new furnishings and fittings.
In Ibsen, the small-town worlds of finance and the law are crucially intertwined, so that Nora’s forged signature to secure repayments on her husband Torvald’s medical bills assumes a nightmare significance; the barrister Krogstad knows she won’t want to lose face in the locality.
Harris over-complicates the story by giving it a national political edge and having Thomas (ie, Torvald) and Nora Vaughan move into Neil Kelman’s (ie, Krogstad’s) former house, a great booming barn in Anthony Ward’s design, with rows of empty curved shelves and piles of packing cases. A huge Christmas tree stands forlornly in the corner.
Thomas is newly appointed to the cabinet, Kelvin thrown out of office on possibly spurious allegations of fraud. Nora has had twins (Abby Negus and William Nye, the opening night pair, look about eight years old in this version) not three children. Gillian Anderson plays Nora as a fragile beauty, cornered by her own protective instincts and cruelly abused by Toby Stephens’ violently unreasonable Thomas.
Despite a slack, anachronistic text - it doesn’t sound much like Ibsen, nor is it all that Edwardian - the acting in Kfir Yefet’s production is outstanding. Anderson’s Nora is affectionately known as “mouse” by Thomas, and she has a wonderful quality of quivering, jumpy sensitivity, unleashing all sorts of pent up frustrations in the great tarantella scene, her dress transforming blues into mauve under Hugh Vanstone’s expressive lighting.
Anderson and Stephens - a devilishly handsome couple they make, too - are bravely complemented by Christopher Eccleston’s bitterly vengeful Lancastrian Kelman and Anton Lesser’s vulpine, bespectacled Dr Rank, unexpectedly teased by Nora with a pair of black stockings she’s found under the Christmas tree.
The quality casting extends to Tara Fitzgerald’s Christine Lyle (Mrs Lynde in Ibsen), a resolute best friend to both Nora and Kelman, with distinct echoes of her own vinegary Nora at the Birmingham Rep some years ago; and Maggie Wells’ bustling housemaid, who seems to have wandered in from Upstairs Downstairs.