A Doll's House
By Henrik Ibsen
10 - 15 April, 2017
Nora Helmer once secretly borrowed a large sum of money so that her husband could recuperate from a serious illness. She never told him of this loan and has been secretly paying it back in small installments by saving from her household allowance. Her husband, Torvald, thinks her careless and childlike, and often calls her his doll. When he is appointed bank director, his first act is to relieve a man who was once disgraced for having forged his signature on a document. This man, Nils Krogstad, is the person from whom Nora has borrowed her money. It is then revealed that she forged her father's signature in order to get the money. Krogstad threatens to reveal Nora's crime and thus disgrace her and her husband unless Nora can convince her husband not to fire him. Nora tries to influence her husband, but he thinks of Nora as a simple child who cannot understand the value of money or business. Thus, when Torvald discovers that Nora has forged her father's name, he is ready to disclaim his wife even though she had done it for him.
Torvald: ďYou are a wife and a mother. Before anything else.Ē
Nora: "I think I'm a human being before anything else."
A Dollís House is a play that scandalised audiences when it premiered in 1879 with its take on marriage and motherhood. More than 100 years after his death, Henrik Ibsen (1828-1906) continues to be one of the world's most performed dramatists. What still startles modern audiences is the play's apparently feminist message. It was radical for its time and the more you get under its skin, you realise how impeccably constructed it is and how its psychology runs so deep.
It's a painful portrayal of two people who have fallen into a dishonest dynamic. After nine years of marriage they have a crisis, and that will always remain very pertinent and uncomfortable for audiences. Nora is a woman conditioned and formed by the patriarchal society of 1870s Norway, in which her main roles are to look beautiful, keep a comfortable home and satisfy the needs of her husband. But she has a passionate, beating heart, and the play charts her attempts to understand and articulate her own desires and needs.†
It is tempting, now, to look at the play's sexual politics as dated and dusty, tensions from an era that bears little or no resemblance to the modern world. Though the landscape of women's rights has changed irrevocably in the last 100 years; there are still complex dilemmas for many women, which are no closer to being resolved. British women still earn 22.7% less than men per hour, and are more sexualised and objectified than ever. The inexorable forces of capitalism have intensified gender stereotyping, with girls beseiged by glittery-pink role models, something that continues to have a negative impact on the scope of their ambitions: in a recent UK study reported in the book, it was found that just 4% of girls between 13 and 18 want to pursue a career in engineering, while 12% would like to be a housewife, and 32% a model. Female power remains intrinsically linked to looks: In 2011, it emerged that the Bank of England had held a seminar for its female employees called Dress for Success, at which they were advised to 'always wear a heel of some sort Ė maximum two inches; always wear some sort of makeup, even if it's just lipstick.
A Doll's House is a chance to immerse yourself in somebody elseís problems and then to reflect on your own afterwards. It has been described as ďpro-feministĒ or an attack on marriage but Ibsen himself was more concerned with the wider range of repercussions rather than gender-based interventions. Itís quite a fearless play, and unexpected, too, because Ibsen takes elements of more conventional plots about blackmail, some standard melodramatic ploys, but then turns it so that the play becomes something completely different. It was quite innovative at the time, and it does foretell the problems of modern womenís relationships with men and the changing nature of the institution of marriage.
Itís not an understatement to call A Doll's House a masterpiece. It still resonates and, theatrically, itís still incredibly powerful. Itís not just a piece of literature or a propaganda piece, but itís actually two people trying to negotiate something, itís about men and women trying to interact on a level playing field and finding a new way of living together and leading more fulfilling lives. To me, the ending is about opening up a new vista Ė that was the old way of doing things and itís gone now, so what can we build from the rubble. Where do we go from here?†
It has been a pleasure to explore the play alongside such a talented and hard working cast and crew and I hope that they have enjoyed the process as much as I have. We sincerely hope you enjoy the production this evening.