Christopher Hampton's adaptation of Henrik Ibsen's A Doll's House is 'new' only in relative terms - first produced on stage back in the 1970s. That matters not, however, as Alan Ayckbourn's direction shows that there is life enough in the 119 year old play. A Doll's House survives and is constantly revived because, as well as the looming spectre of Ibsen towering above, it questions the conventions and deceptions within the institution of marriage. Relevant in the 90's? Most definitely.
Ayckbourn paces the action well - the play is initially light and fluffy and played for laughs until the comedy recedes as we begin our gradual descent into somewhat darker territory. This is Ayckbourn doffing his cap at his historical counterpart and winking as he realises the two have, thematically, much in common in what is a most pleasurable meeting of two brilliant theatrical minds.
The director, as one has come to expect, coaxes fine performances from all involved. Claire Carrie as Nora not only suffers the misfortune of being Torvald Helmer's (Richard Derrington) subordinate other half but also has to perform throughout in some uncomfortable period garb. The discomfort doesn't stop Carrie delivering a stellar performance during her three act transformation from naive 'spend swift', kept bride into a woman in charge of her own destiny.
Nora, we discover during her scatty outbursts to old school friend Kristine (Dorothy Atkinson), borrowed money with the sole intention of saving the life of the husband she loves - a love that burns despite the fact that he treats her like a child. Nora has to live with a lie as Torvald refuses to abide those who borrow money. It's a deception which starts a spiral of events that proves the eventual undoing of the marriage as it dawns on Nora that the days of tolerating her husband's condescending actions are at an end. Robert Austin, as money lender Krogstad, offers us a baddy who, had this been panto season, would have been on the receiving end of boos and hisses aplenty.
As an audience, we are forced to view from our own point in time. While those in our position for earlier incarnations of A Doll's House may have been shocked to see Nora announce her departure, we are happy to witness her emancipation. In the end Torvald gets what he deserves. Despite Hampton's efforts to show the master of the house with a bit more humanity, he still remains the worst kind of husband. One who thinks his wife should be a mere functional unit with no mind or will of her own.