Theatre A Doll's House Battersea Arts Centre, London

'As good a production as you are likely to see. It plays no tricks with Ibsen's text and subtly points up the overwhelming modernity of the play'
"I feel so bright and happy!" claims Nora, the young wife of a recently promoted bank manager, to her less fortunate friend, the impecunious widow Kristine. Behind her obvious pleasure at the prospect of new prosperity lies a hidden relief that a loan of money Nora has been struggling to maintain will no longer burden her. But the skill of Julia Stubbs's performance is that even while communicating something of all this in one line, an edge of neurosis and dissatisfaction belies her words.

Stubbs's Nora is slightly batty - a twitching, fretting hand-wringing creature - and it is not hard to see why her doting husband Torvald (Richard Trahair) calls her his "lark," his "squirrel", his "little spend- swift", and this without ever realising how much of her allowance she has been squirelling away to feed the loan.

Alison Brown's production is at pains to show that the marriage is by no means intolerable at the start of the play. Torvald is a young man as inexperienced emotionally as Nora is in worldly matters, resorting in his ignorance to babying instead of real loving. As long as Nora can persuade herself that she loves him she can continue to play along with it.

The great protective shield that Nora hugs to herself is her secret loan, which she calls her "pride and joy". It was taken without Torvald's knowledge in order to fund a recuperative trip to Italy which she believes has saved his life. It represents the only independent action she has ever taken, and allows her to pretend to herself that she is only pretending to be powerless in the relationship. It is no coincidence that the arrival of the truly independent Kristine (Cathy Rakoff) unexpectedly brings about the crisis that finally sparks Nora's momentous door-slamming.

Alison Brown's production, and now the inaugural production in this season of I Wish I'd Seen That fringe revivals at BAC, is as good as any you are likely to see. Perhaps not a lot of the acting is as convincing as Stubbs's, but even in the West End there is no guarantee of that. On a strictly naturalistic set complete with burnished copper coal scuttle and sombre Victorian furniture, it plays no tricks with Ibsen's magnificent text. Aided and abetted by Christopher Hampton's translation, the production subtly points up the overwhelming modernity of the play, and makes its own subtle suggestions at interpretation.

When a greatly changed Nora invites Torvald to sit down at the table with her to talk things through, the emotional impact is entirely disproportionate to the low-key drama of the scene. Nora does not act in anger but in a sober and urgent need to at last start communicating with her husband as an adult. The production allows us to see the full pathos of Torvald's position - he was, after all, only doing what he thought would make Nora happy. It reminds us of the vigilance both sexes must employ if relations between them are not to break down irrevocably.

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