A Doll’s House (West End)

The Young Vic’s award-winning production of Ibsen’s classic transfers to the Duke of York’s Theatre, starring Hattie Morahan and Dominic Rowan

Hattie Morahan (Nora) in A Doll's House at the Duke of York's
Hattie Morahan (Nora) in A Doll’s House at the Duke of York’s

© Richard Hubert Smith

In slamming the door on her husband and three children (one of them, in this production, shockingly, a babe in arms) Nora Helmer is either an heroic feminist or, as Ibsen insisted, an example to us all in finding out who we are and becoming that person, whatever the cost.

There’s a blind self-centeredness about all of Ibsen’s heroic characters, and it’s the great virtue of Carrie Cracknell‘s Young Vic production, and Hattie Morahan‘s mesmerising performance, that Nora seems a rather skittish, selfish and dangerously impulsive creature, even as the scales drop from her eyes with regard to her husband’s behaviour.

On a second viewing, I still admire rather than salivate over this version. Simon Stephens‘ text (based on a literal translation of Charlotte Barslund) is quick and lively, and Ian MacNeil’s revolving doll’s house – showing us Torvald’s study and Nora’s bedroom as well as the drawing room – has mercifully slowed down a little and scratched the superfluous upper level.

As so often in Ibsen, financial skulduggery in the past is at the root of it all, with Nora’s forged signature on a loan from bank clerk Krogstad to help her husband through a rough patch of ill health returning to haunt her and initiate all sorts of repercussions.

Dominic Rowan (Torvald) in A Doll's House at the Duke of York's
Dominic Rowan (Torvald) in A Doll’s House at the Duke of York’s
Johan Persson

In plotting, and psychological twists, of unsurpassed dramatic brilliance, Ibsen shows how trust in a marriage is the main essential; and in the parallel plot of Krogstad’s alliance with Nora’s old friend Kristine – played with a quiet intensity by Nick Fletcher and Caroline Martin – he also shows how constancy grows in adversity.

I still find Steve Toussaint‘s inconveniently tall Dr Rank – he’s taller than the set – impenetrably anodyne; is he really obsessed with Nora? And doesn’t he resemble an injured athlete on his crutch rather than a sinister lounge lizard with a degenerative spinal condition?

Dominic Rowan‘s Torvald, though, is beautifully nuanced as a besotted and short-tempered husband, clearly out of his depth with Nora, unable to banish the rubble of social expectation from his own idea of responsible domination.

The dead-of-night show-down never fails, and as played by Morahan and Rowan, it’s simply electrifying. Mainly, I suspect, because this Nora is not a rabid neurotic for once, but a coltish, dream-like physical fulfilment of Torvald’s estimation of her as part doll and part swooping swallow.

As a bird in her own fairy-tale that spins out of control – from the unusually elegant restraint of the tarantella to the ominous, sexy striptease on the eve of departure – Morahan’s Nora is an enchanting, thoroughly wilful creature; for all her wild-eyed frenzy at the end, you could even see her coming back in an apologetic flurry in two or three days’ time.