Think Ibsen. Think realism, social criticism and subtlety.
Now take the first and last of those away and you’re starting to get an idea of Emily Perkin’s first play, A Doll’s House.
Playing at the Maidment Theatre from now till May 23rd, A Doll’s House is a modern take on the classic pre-feminist Henrik Ibsen play of the same name.
The protagonist of Perkin’s A Doll’s House fits the same name and mould as Ibsen’s lead; Nora (Laurel Devenie) is a house-wife who has covertly borrowed a large sum of money from a loan shark. Both plays centre on the unravelling of this secret.
In this aspect, Perkin’s A Doll’s House is a cookie-cutter replica of Ibsen’s critical piece. However, this is largely where the similarities between the two stop. In my typical professional manner, I sat down in my seat on Monday without a programme and rather sweaty from a lack of parking and poor time management. As I settled myself within a surplus of elderly patrons (due to the Metro Magazine subscriber event immediately after the show), I slowly took in the interesting set that comprises A Doll’s House’s stage. Original productions of A Doll’s House included a set that was literally like a slice of someone’s living room; the stage was traditionally cluttered with every aspect of a normal house. Now, take this original cluttered set, replace every item with a stuffed panda, place them all in large rectangular bouncy play-pen in the middle of the stage, and you have the Auckland Theatre Company’s set for A Doll’s House.
During the Metro Magazine question and answer event after the show, Perkin’s explained that she had little input over the staging, apart from agreeing to go for an abstract, over a realist, look, with the pandas largely being set designer Tony Rabbit’s call. When pressed for an answer to the point of these pandas, Perkin’s was hesitant. Rather than cement a singular role for them, Perkin’s described the soft toys as a device for the actors, as they are constantly manipulated to different effects throughout the play. They provide a sensual soft ground for Nora and her husband Theo (Damien Avery) during romantic scenes, a hide-and-seek and play area for the children in almost every scene, and ultimately in my opinion, a representation of the material yet arguably empty life Nora and Theo have created.
This difference in set is undeniably the most unexpected feature of A Doll’s House. However, this modern version also presents a few other surprises with its take on the feminism within Ibsen’s play. Intensely physical, Perkin’s play features Nora continually bounding around the stage, not only in her dance scene but with every line of emotional dialogue. Through this physicality, I will say that some of the subtle feminism in Nora’s speeches is lost, as I found myself often caught up in Nora’s movements over her words. Yet, this is possibly an achievement on Perkin’s part, as the decisions and ideas Ibsen’s Nora voices would not be as impacting in a modern setting - they are hardly revolutionary by today’s standards. In this way Perkin’s A Doll’s House succeeds at showcasing a Nora that is still compelling and even shocking.
Personally I didn’t feel as deep a connection with this modern take on A Doll’s House as I did with the original. However, due to its impeccable acting and interesting ideas, Perkin’s A Doll’s House still managed to captivate me from start to finish. I feel conflicted over this show as a modern Ibsen play; however, as an Emily Perkins original, I loved it.
Regardless of if you are experienced with Ibsen or a modern enthusiast, with its colloquial nature and outstanding performances, Auckland Theatre Company’s A Doll’s House is a must-see this month – at the very least for the pandas!