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Review Round-up: Critics in a spin with A Doll's House?

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A new production of Henrik Ibsen’s 1879 classic A Doll's House opened at the Young Vic last night (9 July 2012, previews from 29 June).

Nora’s world seems ideal: beautiful children, elegant home, adoring husband. But her life is shot through with lies and delusion. When the truth bursts into the open, Nora is shocked to discover how radically her life has to change.

Hattie Morahan stars as Nora alongside Dominic Rowan as her husband Torvald. On television, Morahan played Elinor in the BBC’s recent adaptation of Sense and Sensibility, while her theatre credits include Tom Stoppard's The Real Thing. Rowan’s stage credits include The Village Bike, The Misanthrope, Happy Now?, Henry VIII and Under the Blue Sky, and his TV credits include Law and Order: UK.

A Doll's House is directed by Young Vic associate director Carrie Cracknell (Elektra), previously joint artistic director of the Gate Theatre, and designed by Olivier and Tony Award winner Ian MacNeil, whose work includes Billy Elliot the Musical and Vernon God Little. Adapter Simon Stephens' credits include the English-language premiere of Jon Fosse's I Am Wind which ran at the Young Vic in 2011, as well as his own plays including Punk Rock, Harper Regan, Pornography and On the Shore of the Wide World, for which he won an Olivier in 2005.

A Doll’s House runs at the Young Vic until 26 July.

Michael Coveney

“Carrie Cracknell’s revival of Ibsen’s great play about money, marriage and misery is finally worth it for the final scene…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…the cramped nature of Nora’s life is well conveyed in both design and performance…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…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.”

Henry Hitchings
Evening Standard

A Doll's House is one of the masterpieces of nineteenth-century theatre, and in this vital, tense account Henrik Ibsen’s play feels wonderfully fresh…Morahan anchors the production with a performance that’s intelligent, detailed and involving. Meanwhile, Dominic Rowan’s Torvald emerges as a controlling and attractive hypocrite. His more sinister attributes gradually become clear to us. We see that he’s an impressive version of an overgrown baby, but he retains an unsettling charm. The central pair are beautifully supported, with Susannah Wise dignified as Nora’s old friend Kristine and Nick Fletcher intriguingly wounded and shady as the creepy, insinuating Krogstad. And Steve Toussaint is severe yet also tender as Rank, the ailing doctor whose diseased backbone is an image of society’s moral sickness. Simon Stephens’s new rendering of the play doesn’t insist on giving it a flashy makeover. Instead it is respectful of Ibsen’s formal power…Better still is Ian MacNeil’s design, which evokes both a busy domesticity and something much less comfortable. It makes the Helmers’ home seem just like a doll’s house, a claustrophobic place from which any right-minded person would want to break free. It’s a toss-up whether the design or Morahan will remain longer in the memory. Even if the final, contentious scene is slightly disappointing, this is a sexy, passionate interpretation of Ibsen, potent and emotionally truthful.”

Michael Billington

“Carrie Cracknell's production certainly puts a new spin on Ibsen's 1879 classic. As if to remind us that this is a play about domestic revolution, Ian MacNeil's design revolves ceaselessly, showing us the different rooms in the Helmer household…Even on a purely practical level, the revolving set forces the Young Vic to sacrifice its usual intimacy by adopting a straight-edged, picture-frame stage. But nothing can overcome the sheer power of Morahan's Nora… in its commanding detail, Morahan's performance is entirely her own…This is a bravura performance that elevates Morahan to the front rank of British actors. Although Simon Stephens's new version tilts the balance even further against Torvald by depriving him of his potentially redemptive last line, Dominic Rowan is still extremely impressive. His Torvald is a young, highly sexed, deeply ambitious man with a strong aesthetic sense: his fatal flaw is that he sees marriage as a "performance" in which Nora is expected to play the role of fluttering songbird. There is also fine, intelligent support from Susannah Wise as the practical Mrs Linde, Nick Fletcher as the blackmailing Krogstad and Steve Toussaint as the helplessly lovelorn Dr Rank. Even if I grew impatient with the stage's perpetual motion, I came away spiritually recharged by confrontation with Ibsen's masterpiece.”

Dominic Cavendish

“…a sensible, sensitive and spirited version of A Doll's House at the Young Vic that chimes with the debt-laden times we’re trapped in and poses still-pressing questions about male-female relations in marriage, the rights of women and the responsibilities of motherhood along with broader provocations about the moral atrophy that can underlie material affluence. Yet neither he nor the rest of the creative team hanker after crude modishness. Hattie Morahan’s wonderfully luminous and sinuous Nora isn’t required to strap on a dildo or reach for a kitchen-knife in pursuit of some radical point…the evening puts Morahan’s Nora in a vertiginous spin. She begins on a note of brittle assurance, sneaking chocolates like a naughty-flirty school-girl, and ends up like a bird in fluttering free-fall through stormy air-currents, even her voice a ragged, tattered thing. It’s very much Morahan’s night, but, within the parameters of their characters’ blinkered period masculinity, Dominic Rowan, as her upright, uptight husband Torvald, too proudly possessive by half, Nick Fletcher as the blackmailing clerk Krogstad, flashing flick-knife smiles, and Steve Toussaint as the kindly, terminally ill Doctor Rank ensure that this fleet-footed, three-hour affair builds to a satisfying peak of tension, recrimination and financially-induced personal meltdown.”

Quentin Letts
Daily Mail

“Hattie Morahan, a rising talent, is nervy Nora Helmer, mother, muse, debtor. Miss Morahan does intense scattiness pretty well. She almost overdoes it at times – my dear, wave those hands 50 percent less and it will still be too much – but this Nora is certainly one of those melodramatic types easily tipped from happy to cataclysmic. That constant nibbling at imbalance encapsulates Ibsen’s tragedy. And tragedy it is, despite odd giggles from a puerile Young Vic audience last night. Perhaps the laughter is healthy evidence of the playwright’s objectivity or the slightly excessive modernity of Simon Stephens’s text. Or perhaps it is just duff direction by Carrie Cracknell, failing to build a sense of the ominous…Ian MacNeil’s revolving set has the proportions of a doll’s house. Good stuff. And my, does it turn. I felt the early stages of car-sickness. Nils Krogstad (Nick Fletcher), facing ruin, holds Nora’s dark secret. The excellent Mr Fletcher brings out his chippiness, his desperation. Susannah Wise’s Mrs Linde is also completely believable as a woman of greater experience. Steve Toussaint looks far too fit and youthful to be sickly old Dr Rank. His relationship with Nora is uncertainly drawn. Dominic Rowan begins all right as Nora’s husband Torvald, but his confrontation scene later is acting-by-numbers."

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