A Doll's House - Nora, Barbican Theatre

A production full of shock tactics but, in the end, lacking emotional logic
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The Independent Culture

IT IS arguably the most famous and politically reverberant sound effect in the history of world drama. But it is not the offstage slamming of a door that you hear at the end of Thomas Ostermeier's startlingly updated revival of A Doll's House, though the conclusion certainly gives you a loud bang (or, rather, series of bangs) for your buck. This German production - I should say outright - is tricky to review, because you cannot evaluate its angle on Ibsen's 1879 play without discussing its shock tactics.

Instead of walking out on the husband who has treated her as a plaything and evinced more concern for his public image than for her, Nora, in this version, shoots him dead, deliberately firing bullet after bullet, so that he winds up face down and twitching in the large tropical fish tank that dominates their swish, achingly hip apartment. This sensationally altered climax comes at the end of a production which, while largely following Ibsen's plot up to that point, reinvents Nora and Torvald as 21st century yuppies. As a contemporary equivalent of the original pet songbird, this heroine is the designer-dressed trophy wife of a man who is more at ease with status symbols than female emotions.

We are talking Barbie doll's house and the atmosphere is heavily sexed up. Anne Tismer is an arrestingly frenetic and insecure Nora, feeding the ego of her husband (Jorg Hartmann) by groping his groin in public when she wants a favour or (in place of Ibsen's tarantella scene) hurling herself around like a Lara Croft clone to a mad electro-clash track on the hi-fi. The production, which is visiting the BITE festival, has a crude, grotesque vigour (Dr Rank makes his final appearance as desperately unfunny drunk in a Christmas angel costume). The irony, though, is that it is much less shocking and searching as an account of the piece than the best of the in-period stagings.

You wonder why Ostermeier and his translator (Hinrich Schmidt-Henkel) did not devise a completely free-standing contemporary response to Ibsen's play, for this job groans with internal contradictions. Helmer appears here to be living in the style of a merchant banker rather than a bank manager and the blackmail-propelled plot does not transplant well to these shameless times. More importantly, the lurid revamp of the ending is fatally lacking in emotional logic. This strenuous make-over is the easy stuff of controversy - superficially provoking, but not profoundly provocative.

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