Nora (A Doll’s House)
Schaubühne am Lehniner Platz @ Her Majesty’s Theatre
2:00pm, Fri 17 Mar 2006
More was written about Nora, methinks, than any other Festival show – maybe because of the controversy surrounding the original work. Henrik Ibsen’s A Doll’s House was, upon release in 1879, one of the first public works to admonish a woman leaving her husband… commonplace now, maybe, but scandalous back in the day. As such, the work is seen as an important piece of early feminist art.
The set is, frankly, sensational; pride-of-place is given to an enormous fish-tank. Though it initially reminded me of an Ikea kit-home – all oblique and semi-deco – it really comes into its own between scenes. As the entire set rotates, it reveals some surprising sight-lines to the audience – there’s a strange delight in being able to see people remove & replace things from the closet, to see people enter and leave the house. Audio support is, likewise, wonderful – as we await the arrival of the characters on-stage, two thick notes set an apprehensive atmosphere, eventually giving way to lounge music over which the domesticity of the initial scenes appears. There’s soft, subtle background static that creates a creepy atmosphere. It’s all very sonically lush.
The casting is excellent – even the children – and much has been written of Anne Tismer’s role as Nora… and with good cause. She owns the stage whenever she walks it, is utterly believable, and looks damn good dressed up as Lara Croft. But her character is deeply intelligent, and deeply unsatisfied with her role as a trophy wife; contrast this with the (lack of) character integrity with her husband Torvald’s blasé attitude towards the death of his friend, Dr Rank.
It seems German arts scene is undergoing a bit of a renaissance, using absurdist physical theatre to try and bring the crowds back to the theatres. Oddly enough, I spied the above-linked article in The Australian mere days before seeing Nora, so I wasn’t disturbed in the least when the stage burst forth with an audience-bending strobe-driven high-octane BPM-fest between scenes. Unfazed by the orange beverages turning bright blue. Worried not by the vomiting, the spitting, the over-acted physicality. Nonplussed by the dunking of a body in a fish-tank with the poor little goldfish. And only startled, not surprised, by director Thomas Ostermeier’s “radical” new ending.
What did surprise me, however, was just how German it felt. Blunt, overt direction. Nora’s sluttiness feeling like an average Harry S. Morgan porn film. The attempted reconciliation. And how desperately un-sexy German is as a language.
My SO – and many, many others – loved Nora; I felt a little more detached from it, though I can’t quite figure out why. My ramblings above seem to paint an enthusiastic picture; I loved the opening (which instantly made me feel like it was Christmas Eve); and there were some facets that were supremely interesting to me (what in the original German script translates to “lagubrious”, for example?) So I’m at a loss to explain why I came away somewhat unengaged. But at its heart, Nora remains true to the political tendencies of the original work. Yes, there’s a sting in the tail, but one assumes that’s only there to maintain the shock behind Ibsen’s intent.