A Doll's House, Donmar Warehouse, London
Thursday 21 May 2009
This powerful revival by the young film-maker Kfir Yefet of Ibsen's breakthrough play about a doomed marriage, starring the luminescent Gillian Anderson of X-Files fame, has Ffion Hague, wife of the former Conservative Party leader, as its historical adviser. Does that explain why Zinnie Harris has translated her new version from late 19th-century Norway to Edwardian London and shifted the tale of intrigue, fraud and betrayal from the world of finance to that of politics?
It's only a partially successful transposition. And lines like, "I've got him by his testicles," sound distinctly odd, even when uttered by a former time-travelling Doctor Who, Christopher Eccleston, full of ire and splutter as Neil Kelman, a Lancastrian politician hastily removed from office after "allegations" and a row with the PM.
In Ibsen, the catastrophe is impelled by a newly appointed bank manager's wife, Nora, being verbally abused by her own husband when the deal she struck to save him in the depths of a nervous breakdown is exposed as a fraud. At the Donmar, Anderson's beautiful, butterfly Nora is a politician's wife – Toby Stephens's magnificently haughty cabinet minister declaring (to huge laughs) that "our staple is trust" – who has worked without him knowing and bought second-hand clothes to help pay off the debt. But she still owes the last payment.
The house Nora and Thomas Vaughan are moving into was once in the possession of the ruined Kelman (the barrister Krogstad in Ibsen). This gives the play an added twist of bitter displacement, though it's not one that serves it all that well; too strenuous.
Stalking the scene is Anton Lesser's devoted Doctor Rank, dying of cancer but maintaining one of those ambiguous domestic triangles Ibsen excelled at. Anderson, meanwhile, is the equal of the most vulnerable, tremulous Noras I've seen, but she's easily the most touchingly innocent, and the most beautiful.
It's worth noting the superb playing of Eccleston and Tara Fitzgerald as his true love, Mrs Lyle (Lynde in Ibsen), in the sub-plot recipe for a slightly more ideal marriage. The play still bristles with hurt, relevance and anger, and didn't really need the political patina. Nice job, though.
To 18 July (0870 060 6624; www.donmar warehouse.com) A version of this review has already appeared in some editions.
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