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Review: A Doll's House, Clwyd Theatr Cymru, Mold

THE events and climax of Henrik Ibsen’s A Doll’s House are almost as shocking in 2012 as they were when the play was first published over 130 years ago.

We like to think there are few taboos left in these enlightened times, but although protagonist Nora’s actions in A Doll’s House are not as socially appalling as they would have been in 1879, they still leave food for thought.

I’m being deliberately vague about what it is Nora does as it is a key surprise at the climax of what is a masterful study of feminist emancipation in those infamously straitened Victorian times.

A Doll’s House is an unashamedly feminist play (Ibsen was a steadfast campaigner for women’s rights, firmly believing “it is women who will solve the human predicament”), but it gets its messages across in subtle ways, rather than ramming them down your throat John Godber-style.

Nora and Torvald have been happily married for eight years, have three gorgeous children and a lovely house. But this picture of idealist suburban life is built upon unstable footings, and as a secret from Nora’s past begins to unravel, we see the small cast of characters struggle with their shifting opinions of one another.

It’s an intense piece, laced with little humour, but what there is of it is brought out expertly by the ever reliable Caryl Morgan as the effervescent Nora. Morgan can stray a little too far into the hysterical at times, especially during the middle of the play when the rapidly fracturing Nora’s secret gets more and more out of her control. She gives a good portrayal of encroaching madness, but perhaps needs to tone it down a little and find subtler ways of portraying her descent.Having said that, her stillness and strength at the climax is powerful, showing she can underplay just as well as she can dance the tarantella.

Simon Dutton plays her patriarchal, patronising husband Torvald. He plays these Victorian gentlemen too well, although his pairing with the twentysomething Morgan (he could be twice her age) jars a little. Maybe that’s Ibsen goading Victorian society again, or it could just be that director Emma Lucia only had a small company to cast from.

The story of A Doll’s House is so strong and compelling that anyone who sees it is duty bound to form an opinion. It’s all story and virtually no incident, hence the minimalist set which disconcertingly (and it has to be said, pointlessly) rotates at the start of each act. Does the turning of the set symbolise the changes in Nora’s life and outlook? Perhaps, but putting your cast on a timber wheel of fortune smacks more of showing off than anything too profound.

John Cording makes for a jolly Dr Rank (again, the age gap between Nora and Rank is marked) and Llion Williams is workmanlike as the slighted Krogstad, who invades the Helmers’ home and makes random, uncalled-for threats. Although his family’s situation is unfortunate, we don’t really feel we care very much about him and his brood. Indeed, very few characters in the play are sympathetically drawn.

As ever, Catrin Aaron shines as Nora’s old friend Kristine. I think it impossible for Aaron to give a duff performance (she was fantastically prim in the theatre’s recent production of Roots, and peerless as Bella in Gaslight) and I always look forward to seeing her in whatever she does.

This is a three-act play of some intensity, and takes almost three hours to come to a head (with two intervals), but if you enjoy Victorian melodrama, you’d do well to see this thoughtful and earnest production.

A Doll's House can be seen at Clwyd Theatr Cymru, Mold, until March 31. Call 0845 330 3565 or see clwyd-theatr-cymru.co.uk