Director Gavin Quinn plays heavily on the childish habits of Nora in this reimagining, creating with actress Judith Roddy a manic portrayal of a young girl’s modern marriage. Classically, the tangled web of Nora’s back-door business deals with Krogstad create the show’s driving mystery while the examination of her suitability for the roles of wife and mother provide the food for thought. It is no different in Quinn’s production, with eager to please Nora skipping, smiling and pandering to a sickening level while her world as she knows it slowly crumbles around her.
There were tense moments at the beginning of the show when it was questionable whether Roddy’s voice would hold out over the two hour production, but she soon seemed to settle into the well rehearsed role. Any questions as to why she was so croaky at the start where soon answered, Roddy faces a demanding role requiring her to sing, scream and make the most convincing sound of a crying baby, so realistic it could almost have been a recording, as she moves around the stage almost non-stop for the entire production.
In light of this, Roddy puts in an excellent performance, carrying the show with ease. The rest of the ensemble are quite wooden in their character portrayals which creates touching juxtaposition when more tender moments are allowed to break through. Some characterisation is lost in this method, though, Pauline Hutton playing Christine Lindein particular is not able to reach a level much beyond caricature, a shame for a character that can form much more than a bit-part in this play and really add depth to Nora’s plight by comparison.
Breaking in and out of the traditional script, Quinn has attempted to bring this story into the now with sharp references to modern times and gadgets which also provide some easy comic relief. An on-stage explanation of the plotlines, characters and meanings, presumably for those less familiar with the classic version of A Doll House, comes through Aíne Ní Mhuirí, Nora’s maid and nanny, who provides spoken stage directions and analysis of the script at various points throughout the show. While this is useful in giving the audience insight into what has and will happen in the complex drama, these segments are honestly not particularly entertaining and at times laden with so much detail that understanding them is made difficult, thus rendering their reason for being seemingly moot.
The set and lighting design by Aedín Cosgrove is highly visually appealing and uses the Powerhouse Theatre space superbly with high reaching columns and dramatic lighting states, though some aspects of this, too, seem to be a little lost in translation. Cardboard cut-outs of each of the characters stand on stage, firstly with their backs facing outwards then turned to face the audience and the action after interval. The significance of these figures was not clear however, the actors’ movement and use of them in the second half of the show was precise and deliberate but failed to convey any meaning that Cosgrove and Quinn had aimed for. Perhaps it was to emphasise the fine relationship between role-playing and real life experienced by all of the characters in the play, but these questions were not asked and expanded upon acutely in any aspect of this version of A Doll House, and so the relevance was again not entirely made clear.
It is a tough ask to re-invent a classic work, especially one renown for its societal and moral questioning of a bygone era. Pan Pan Theatre are to be congratulated for not manipulating this play to prove a point different to the original text, however somewhere in toeing the line between modernising and holding with tradition the purpose of this production has been somewhat numbed. While not as rigorous a production of this classic script as could be hoped, A Doll House does feature some really unique performances and entertaining moments.
Brisbane Powerhouse presents
A Doll House
Pan Pan Theatre
Venue: Powerhouse Theatre | Brisbane Powerhouse
Dates: 13 - 17 Feb, 2013
Tickets: $58 – $42
Part of the 2013 World Theatre Festival