Nora: A Doll’s House

Reviewer's Rating

Ibsen’s A Doll’s House is a play which has had audiences speak about for centuries since its first performance in 1879, where his iconic protagonist Nora abandons her children to seek emancipation: a play which is said to have been based on Ibsen’s close friend, Laura Kieler, who suffered a similar tragedy to Nora. The horror Nora caused by literally slamming the door shut on her children caused such an upheaval that the German actress Hedwig Niemann-Raabe, who was to open Nora oder ein Puppenheim in Flensborg and Berlin in 1880 only a year after the première in Copenhagen, refused to perform the main part unless the ending was changed. Despite his reluctance, Ibsen was pressured to adapt the closing scene in the absence of any official treaty concerning authors’ rights between Norway and Germany, and subsequently included an episode in which, just before her departure, as Nora looks at her sleeping children for the last time, the thought of leaving them motherless makes her change her mind. This ground-breaking play was to change the course not only of modern drama, but of women’s roles on stage, an influence which travelled and circulated the globe in the decades and later centuries to come.

It is therefore unsurprising that Glasgow’s Citizen’s Theatre at the Tramway, celebrating a new season of work by women writers and hence putting female playwrights centre stage, should want to produce A Doll’s House. However, this Doll’s House is no ordinary Doll’s House. Writer Stef Smith has cleverly produced a radical new version of Ibsen’s play: an adaptation rather than a word-for-word translation. Though the core storyline is unaltered, with a similar pace and rhythm, the script is more of a creative rewriting of the play. This Doll’s House represents the eventual emancipation of three different versions of Nora: one from 1918 (in the immediate aftermath of women’s right to suffrage in Britain granted on November 21st of the same year); 1968 (during the sexual revolution) and one from 2018 (representing the present-day). The dialogue is modernised so that each version of Nora speaks in the appropriate register, and the essence of each is thus shifted into the relevant periods.

For me, having recently published on Ibsen’s Nora (De Francisci, 2018), the main attraction of this play is to see how modern-day translations and adaptations produce and stage the revolutionary ending and the results are pleasantly surprising. In the closing scene, as each version of Nora reveals to her husband her motivations for leaving, each is lined up at the back of the stage in appropriate costume reflecting the relevant timeframe. The first version of Nora explains her ‘run’ for freedom and the twenty-first century Nora elucidates her politics, stressing how she, along with all the other ‘Noras’, will not stop her mission and will come after our ‘daughters’ and all the other women in the future. Perhaps the only version of Nora which didn’t speak to the Nora we have all come to recognise in Ibsen’s original play is the 1960s version. This version runs to the arms of her female companion and though we are made to understand why, what is most fascinating (and arguably problematic) about Ibsen’s Nora is how she leaves her family home for no-one else but herself – Ibsen’s “original” Nora leaves to seek emancipation, freedom and liberty, independently, and not for a romantic love: not for a man and, equally, not for a woman.

All in all, Glasgow’s Citizen’s Theatre definitely welcomed a ‘different’ kind of Nora (or ‘Noras’) on stage: a Nora who, over a century after her initial première in the late nineteenth century, still manages to voice the compassion and humanity in Ibsen’s feminist play.