Carrie Cracknell’s revival of Ibsen’s great play about money, marriage and misery is finally worth it for the final scene; a rough, raw, dead-of-night showdown between Hattie Morahan’s disintegrating Nora Helmer and Dominic Rowan’s hilariously weak-kneed Torvald.
Critics may sit back in their seats waiting for the door slam, but the Young Vic audience is on the edge of theirs, heedless of the play’s venerable status, as indeed is Simon Stephens’s quicksilver “version” (from a literal translation by Charlotte Barslund).
Ibsen’s three acts are set in the drawing room, but Cracknell and designer Ian MacNeil give us the whole apartment, which revolves like a crazy carousel, taking us into Nora’s bedroom, Torvald’s study, the dining room, the hallway; this is great for the “hide-and-seek” game with the children but soon becomes inefficient and confusing.
There is also a large staircase to the upstairs flat, but that hardly earns it keep and makes no telling architectural statement. Otherwise, the cramped nature of Nora’s life is well conveyed in both design and performance, though the low doorways prove perilous to Steve Toussaint’s unusually tall and culturally disoriented Doctor Rank.
Nora’s third child in this instance is a real live baby, ten months old I’d say, which makes her big decision all the more painful. The secrets and lies of the marriage are disentangled in the ironically paralleled relationship between Nick Fletcher’s somewhat colourless lawyer, Krogstad, and Susannah Wise’s bustling, considerate Kristine.
The stroke of genius in the play is that Nora’s deceit is motivated by love and that ideas of financial criminality in the savings bank are muddled with those of how we treat, or abuse, each other. Nora is as much a victim of hypocrisy and repression as Torvald is of the belief system he embodies without malice or imagination.
No-one’s ever done the great tarantella scene as Cheryl Campbell once did in Adrian Noble’s RSC production (it’s a bit cramped here), but Morahan’s overall reading is a beautifully calibrated, coltish expression of physical and psychological confinement awakening into a trance-like self-awareness, tinged with madness.
There is lovely detail, too, in Rowan’s tipsy bonhomie after the party, although he might just be reeling from the endlessly revolving doll’s house; it’s certainly loosened the stays in the triangular arrangement at the heart of the play, the least convincing part of an otherwise compelling evening.