Theatre Review: A Doll’s House @ the Donmar Warehouse

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A Doll’s House plays at the Donmar until 18 July

It’s a tasty cast that brings us Zinnie Harris’s new version of Ibsen’s A Doll’s House at the Donmar.

Gillian Anderson plays Nora, the woman who risks her reputation to save her husband, played by Toby Stephens. Christopher Eccleston, Tara Fitzgerald and Anton Lesser make up the rest.

Those familiar with the play should note: in this new version, the action’s been moved to 1909, and this is no longer about an oppressive bank manager in small-town Norway. Torvald Helmer is now Thomas Vaughan (Stephens), a smug recruit to the British Cabinet. As a result, A Doll’s House’s themes of debt, fraud, trust and deceit take on an interesting, topical flavour.

Sadly, the group of students behind us were a bit miffed; presumably this wasn’t the A Level text they were hoping to see.

“As politicians, our staple is trust,” cries the increasingly noxious Thomas in Kfir Yefet’s eerily timely production, producing knowing titters from the audience. Some may feel the true feminist edge of Ibsen’s original is blunted in this new version, with its new theme of political corruption; we rather liked the nice twist of a British version with the suffragist Christine (Fitzgerald), and a right wing Dr Rank (Lesser).

Gillian Anderson’s Nora is still required to make one of drama’s most devastating transitions. A loving mother and a wife, Anderson’s Nora is beautifully playful, flirty and childlike in one of the most gorgeous blue dresses we’ve ever seen. As Nora’s imperfect world tightens around her, and the tension in this expertly crafted play builds, Anderson proves herself more than capable of the role.

The serene blue of Nora’s dress and her eyes is overtaken by panicked black and red when she dances her dramatic tarantella, “for her life”. When she finally comes to leave, the shocking slammed door of the original still shocks today.

But it was Christopher Eccleston we were eager to see. He played the disgraced MP Neil Kelman (Krogstad from the original) as that same manic Mancunian he seems to be hired to do these days; all flared nostrils, bared teeth, hands pulling desperately through his Hitler-esque haircut. He was excellent, but we were longing to see him do something a bit different.

We heartily recommend that any fans of the cast, the play, the Donmar Warehouse, or theatre itself go and see it.

“But what good’s that?” we hear you cry. “Everything at the Donmar is always completely sold out!” Which is where we let you into a little-known secret. Ten seats for every performance are released at 10.30 each morning; there are 20 spaces for standing. Then there are potential returns. We queued from 9.15 on Saturday and were one of about 15 people to get seats. Take a book, a coffee, chat to your fellow theatrephiles; it’s a risk, but we assure you that it’s worth it.

A Doll’s House is at the Donmar Warehouse until 18 July. The Donmar’s people are eager for us to point out this is a review of a pre-press night show. If you were lucky enough to be at press night, or any other night for that matter, let us know what it was like in the comment below.

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