Wednesday evening was a real treat for me as my book club had organised a trip to the theatre. We are looking at different genres and for our play we decided upon Henrik Ibsen's "A Doll's House" ("A Doll House" in US).
We all read act one at home alone; but came together for our regular meeting to read through the final two acts. Many of us found that even though we had previously seen the play we garnered an extra dimension via the read-through. Somehow we were inveigled with the action as we donned the various parts. We were able to glean further layers of meaning. So a thoroughly worthwhile approach to be sure.
[Image description: the glass-lift on the outside of the theatre façade; courtesy of Wikipedia.]
Access to the first-floor theatre is via a capacious lift (elevator) on the St. Annes Square side of the Royal Exchange Building, more than comfortably encompassing myself in the large wheelchair and my assistant. I was able to order from and pay at the bar at its specially lowered counter. I was addressed directly by very attentive bar staff, rather than comments being aimed at my assistant - that always gets a beam out of me. My stage-level seat, to which I transferred, allowed me to spread out comfortably and remain so throughout the performance. My wheelchair was stowed safely by the exit. I also had need of the facilities and found this to be the only aspect to let down the whole theatre experience: for the area was very malodorous, and the WC itself appeared very stained. However, I have nothing but praise for theatre staff and the accessibility at the venue and would wholeheartedly recommend a visit.
Having seen the play live on two very onerous occasions, I personally was not looking forward to the production as much as some who had not interacted with it. My hopes were for a radical interpretation. How my heart sank when entering the theatre-in-the-round that is the Royal Exchange Theatre! The stage was set with the traditional middle-class furnishings of a fin-de-siècle Swedish apartment. Heigh-ho!
The first act is known for its longueur and, alas, this new adaptation by Bryony Lavery (2013) did not fail to follow in the illustrious footsteps of previous versions! At the book-club read-through, it soon became obvious that the play had been translated into English on more than one occasion. I am actually quite content with my version by Kenneth McLeish (1994) which happily lopped great chunks of florid soliloquy. However, some of my fellow clubbers are of the opinion it is a tad on the brusque side.
At the interval, after acts one and two, we all met up for a confab. Of the ten of us, two actively disliked most aspects of the production, a couple felt rather more positively, and the rest of us liked this or that whilst not wishing to endorse the production as a whole. Everyone agreed that our final opinions would be formed by the measure of the dénouement act.
[Image description: David Sturzaker & Cush Jumbo; © Royal Exchange Theatre.]
I have been a fan of David Sturzaker (Torvald Helmer). However his performance in the first two acts was perfunctory. Whilst some emotion was conveyed in the final scenes, overall he was lack-lustre indeed even one-dimensional. These traits were unfortunately shared by the other male cast-members, Jamie de Courcey (Dr. Rank) and Jack Tarlton (Krogstad). The latter's performance, in particular, was wooden and quite without any redeeming feature.
On the other hand, the women - one and all - gave us all something positive to say about the production. Well that is if one considers not raising praise nor criticism is a constructive comment on acting ability! I have in mind here in particular Kelly Hotten's interpretation of Mrs. Linde.
For myself and the rest of the gang Cush Jumbo's portrayal of Nora Helmer lifted the experience to one of entertainment as opposed to mere time-filler. Her facial expressions, her hand gestures seemed so real. Nora came to life for us. She successfully transitioned from capricious frivolity to ponderous reflection.
In the glass-lift en route for ground level I travelled with a well-to-do middle-aged couple. I enquired of them as to their opinion of the production we had just seen. The wife spoke for both of them as the husband nodded assent and her comment echoed my thoughts exactly:
"Well, it's the best version we have seen!"
"A Doll's House" may not have been one of the Royal Exchange Theatre's greatest successes, but please do not let that put you off making a visit. I have no doubt you will be made very welcome. %)