Ibsen’s powerful drama feels trapped inside Ian MacNeil’s fantastic set: a spinning knot of rooms make up the Helmer’s modest, comfortable home. It’s already small for the outward domestic bliss of Nora and Torvald, their three cherubic kids and maids. But the claustrophobia only increases as Christmas creeps closer, more festive trinkets are added and the reality of the repressed, toy-like existence of Nora unravels.
Despite her attempts at independence, Nora remains infantilised: by her father, her husband and her social position. Having acted alone to secure a loan to help her husband, she’s now the victim of blackmail, passing from one controlling man to yet another. Hattie Morahan’s wide-eyed portrayal is almost unbearably childlike: sneaking forbidden chocolates; clapping her hands with glee when she gets her way; giggling at the audacity of her money-making schemes like a naughty school girl. The way she pouts and wheedles with husband Torvald (the excellent Dominic Rowan) is excruciating.
It’s in the final, devastating act where we see this doll-like facade crack open, revealing a terrified but determined woman inside. After her husband’s possessive accusations and clumsy, mindless forgiveness, Morahan’s Nora drops her baby voice, her flapping hands, and becomes still: eyes and mouth widening as the new, revealing light inside her grows ever brighter. It’s a fantastic performance.
Morahan is brilliantly supported by Caroline Martin as the pragmatic widow Kristine, and Nick Fletcher, who shines as the earthy, unshakably desperate Krogstad. Overall its an impeccably classy production which, despite being more than 130 years old still resonates in a world where employment and money are precarious, and women in the public eye still become targets of abuse.
A Doll’s House runs at the Duke of York’s Theatre, 104 St Martin’s Lane, Strand WC2N 4BG until 26 October. Tickets range from £10 to £75. Visit youngvic.org/whats-on/a-dolls-house-west-end to find out more.