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Theatre Review: A Doll’s House (Young Vic, London)

Hattie Morahan (left) and Dominic Rowan (right). Photograph: Johan Persson. Courtesy of the Young Vic.

Hattie Morahan (left) and Dominic Rowan (right). Photograph: Johan Persson. Courtesy of the Young Vic.

Rating: ****

Henrik Ibsen’s domineering and shocking play about female independence gets a new version by Simon Stephens. When Nora (Hattie Morahan) and her family are on the cusp of achieving financial security an old debt comes back to haunt her, jeopardising everything. But how far can womanly self-reliance and ability get her in a society that views her as weak and subordinate?

There is something very Alfred Hitchcock in Carrie Cracknell’s production. Her innovative use of a revolve on which Ian MacNeil’s pristine Wendy House sits, coupled with Stuart Earl’s chilling score with echoes of Bernard Hermann, is captivating. Between scenes the house spins whilst life goes on within. Immaculate timing and well placed moments create some truly riveting effects, such as when Krogstad (Nick Fletcher) suddenly appearing as a dark stranger at the end of the hallway only to instantly spin out of sight. But the real genius of this is that it’s far from gimmick. It creates a faultless fluidity throughout the entire play on which the growing tension relentlessly compounds upon, creating an unbearable atmosphere throughout the auditorium – not unlike Hitchcock’s single-shot masterpiece Rope.

Stephens’ new version is also incredibly refreshing, natural, and flowing, something which Cracknell has effortlessly matched. Unlike some older versions he does away with clunky literal translations but ensures nothing is taken away from the context. Ibsen’s trademark infantile males and the flawed but bold strength of the women are not diminished, and Stephens’ still manages to include all the subtlety of imagery and profound and complex depth of characters that made Ibsen a master. Despite set and costume design suggesting that Cracknell has moved the time period forward a fair few decades from its 1879 premier, for something not far off 150 years old this version feels incredibly modern and relevant.

Furthermore Cracknell has an excellent cast behind the production. Morahan is just stupendous in what can only be described as a rocket-fuelled performance. She goes from blissfully composed, complete with hollow social airs and graces, to a woman desperately and frantically trying to keep face whilst her life falls apart at the seams. She is utterly engrossing to watch and brings a palpable intensity to Nora. Her support from Dominic Rowan as her insufferably doting, proud, and patronising husband, and Susannah Wise as her steadfast and fretful childhood friend, also lend themselves to an overall powerhouse production.

All criticisms are negligible. Cracknell’s attempt at creating an unstoppable follow-through production means that the length of the first act makes it bit of an endurance test. The variations in the energy inherent in the text causes the pace to falter a little, but ultimately it only tires because you do. Also, Fletcher isn’t quite as obviously sinister and devious as you feel his character should be, but this juxtaposition between character and portrayal adds more enigma than distraction.

Overall this production is magnificent. It’s almost impossible, given such a profound and gobsmacking impact it still has now, to imagine how enormous a shockwave it would have sent through late nineteenth century Norway. Cruel, compelling, and extreme this is an unparalleled thriller not to be missed.

A Doll’s House plays at the Young Vic, London, SE1 8LZ, until 20th April 2013. SOLD OUT. Please contact the theatre for information on returns and Day Tickets (www.youngvic.org).