As fast as any of Ibsen’s plays allow, Carrie Cracknell’s A Doll’s House hurtles towards its heroine’s escape—a nineteenth century escape that achieves modern relevance. One might wonder how one-hundred-thirty-five-year-old feminism could still unsettle an audience, but this production encourages the audience to ponder gender constraints with contemporary urgency.
Hattie Morahan’s Nora enlivens this awareness immediately, delighting in forbidden chocolates with self-congratulatory giggles. Morahan, who received much deserved praise when this production debuted last year at the Young Vic in London, dexterously performs Nora’s calculated foolishness. We see different Noras with her husband, Dr. Rank, Kristine Linde; every interaction extracts a trait that was not always apparent or even assumed. It is to Morahan’s credit that we equate these characterological discoveries with Nora’s intelligence and not with a gendered superficiality. Nora plays a societal game, but Morahan finds nuances that make Nora’s vanity useful yet indulgent; her Nora enjoys the secrets she keeps, manipulating her friends and family, never once allowing the audience to believe that Nora’s professional inexperience, her failed realism, truly propels the plot.
Nora performs her gender as much as she is trapped by it; her husband Torvald aestheticizes and infantilizes Nora while she plays the doll and the child (and, perhaps most importantly yet most invisibly, the devoted lover who saves his life). Dominic Rowan, who plays a man weakened by desire but strengthened by respectability, masterfully fails to react to exactly what Nora has just told him; instead, he always seems to react to what Torvald expects Nora to do or say, especially in the pair’s final scene. Like the small child Torvald believes Nora to be, Rowan plays a man who cannot see that he has made an irreparable mistake, one that opens Nora’s cage, unlocks the door to the doll’s house.
The set-house itself is worth noting: the set, a configuration of rooms and hallways separated by large windows and working doorways, rotates 360 degrees so that the home might slowly reveal itself to the audience. The most captivating transition sequence involves Nora chasing her children throughout the house while the set spins round the stage, a particularly intriguing yet disorienting visual trick, as if there is more life to be found inside the home than one might presume. This liveliness gives a sense of false hope for Nora that this production contradicts at every turn; even if Morahan’s Nora has found some frenetic agency, her power does not extend beyond the walls of her home.
The lighting, soft, natural, calm, does little to lessen the audiences discomfort; the normalcy of it all reminds the audience in what dull hell Nora exists. Even the Christmas tree lights glow with ethereal ease, indicating an inescapable complacency. Somehow, the dim glow makes Torvald’s drunken second-act passes seem sordid, despite the privacy of the couple’s home. The relative darkness of the set never allows the audience to forget the impending destruction that underpins the plot nor the prison Nora inhabits. As Rousseau would have wanted, Nora’s most defiant act revolves around home and husband, but in the play’s final revelatory moments, the set revolves so that the audience is faced with the house’s front door: the final beaten barrier, Nora’s only way out.