A Doll’s House Part 2, written by Lucas Hnath, adapts the seminal Ibsen play …
Staging it from the point where Nora Helmer returns after fifteen years of absence, reversing her decision made over a decade ago and returning to the family home she once deserted. The home and the claustrophobic nature of familial expectations play a key part in this adaptation directed by James Macdonald, with a house structure lifting from the stage to uncover the events inside. The set, designed by Rae Smith, subtly implies that each actor moves as a figurine through the singular enclosed room of the house, surrounded by the audience in the round in the Donmar Warehouse Theatre.
Nora Helmer, (played by Noma Dumezweni), is no longer the simpering yet secretive wife she was throughout Ibsen’s A Doll’s House. She embodies the Nora we view in the final scenes of the original play, decisive, confident, and perhaps a little amoral. The play touches on questions of motherhood and on the obligations we have to our children. On the one hand, Nora’s success and growth present the choice to leave Torvald as a decision made out of necessity, but the complete abandonment of her children (one of whom believed she was dead for nearly a decade) feels deeply uncomfortable. Should we accept Nora’s choice with the excuse that men do it too, and far more often than women? Or do we chastise her for being so willing to leave behind her three young children in a self-serving act? Dumezweni embodies this moral quandary brilliantly, hardly leaving the stage in the ninety-minute runtime, and capturing my attention throughout. At times, her dialogue teeters into the didactic, routinely reminding us of the limitations that marriage places upon women, but perhaps, as a successful writer who encourages other women to leave their husbands, we can pencil her insistence in her views down to a choice in character.
The moralising tones from the characters are present throughout the play, and at points, it appears as though characters enter into dialogue with Nora for the sole purpose of expressively disagreeing with her. The language uses an anachronistic mix of the setting of 19th century Norway, with modern syntax and expressions. The occasional curse word elicited a chuckle from the audience, but I found myself wondering whether this detracted from the tone by using gratuitous attempts at comic relief.
The unravelling of the plot was expertly done, with the lighting, designed by Azusa Ono, working in tandem with sound to signal the passing of time through tableau. Characters also change and develop throughout the production. Anne Marie, played by June Watson, shifts from a sympathetic ear into demanding that Nora leave the way she came. Brian F. O’Bryne playing Torvald Helmer is expected to be our greatest antagonist, which he initially embodies, but his actions by the end signal a man more broken than unkind. Chipper yet cutting, Patricia Allison plays Nora’s (now adult) youngest child Emmy, and their interactions only indicate how similar mother and daughter are, and how the cycle is likely to begin again, despite Nora’s actions.
As an Ibsen fan and passionate feminist, I did enjoy A Doll’s House Part 2, and it is certainly an interesting take on the original play and brings the transactional nature of heterosexual marriage to the forefront. While its methods of presenting such verge on overworked, it was a thoroughly enjoyable watch that I would recommend, Ibsenite or not.
A Doll’s House Part 2 runs until 6th August @ Donmar Warehouse