Race Politics Blends Seamlessly With Gender In This Sparkling Version Of A Doll's House

A Doll's House, Lyric Hammersmith ★★★★☆

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Race Politics Blends Seamlessly With Gender In This Sparkling Version Of A Doll's House A Doll's House, Lyric Hammersmith 4
Photo: Helen Maybanks

With its depiction of a time when women had few rights and limited horizons, it would be simple to think that we've moved beyond A Doll's House. Transplanting it to colonial India, isn't that just a convenient way to layer fashionable racial oppression over sexual? Of course all these thoughts go out of the window when you spend time with the austere, radical Norwegian: Henrik Ibsen.

At its heart is Niru — played with brilliant quick-wittedness by Anjana Vasan — a wife and mother with a secret married to Tom, an overbearing colonial bureaucrat. The destruction wrought by a revelation drives the play, but Niru being by her husband like a child sits underneath the surface as a brilliant skewering of sexism. And racism too, as the play intelligently blends its colonial setting to show how much of this mixed-marriage is false and distorted.

Yet Ibsen is better than just skewering the obviously bad. We see enough of Tom's love, and his liberalism struggling to survive in a corrupt society, for us to understand his merits. Playwright Tanika Gupta — who adapted the piece — cleverly links the repressions of Norweigen society to Tom's fears for his reputation from any whiff of Indian influence, not just from his wife but his old friend Das, an Indian version of Krogstad.

Das's quest for justice is given a political motivation that in the original is lacking. Does this version flatten some of the ambiguity? No, but elevating Das from acting through bitter, private grief to something more liberatory is a bit like finding the key to unlock Iago. It's fine, but there's a loss of that dark abyss that illuminates the rest. That's a small grudge when so much works in this exciting and sparkling Doll's House.

A Doll's House, Lyric Hammersmith, Lyric Square, King St, W6 OQL, £10-£42. Until 5 October

Last Updated 16 September 2019