A Doll's House / Monsters
Various venues
May, 2009

[...] As for A Doll’s House, its topical chimes seem to me to  be a happy coincidence.  Caroline McGinn hits the bull’s-eye, I think, when she uses the term “suffragette” to describe the opinions of the character of Christine.  The play has been relocated to a moment in English history when the social and in particular the political status of women was forming a major part of political discourse; when Nora walks out on a husband who in this version is a politician, she not only asserts her independence in a personal context but causes reverberations in the polity.

However, this interpretation rather depends on there being some dramatic impact to her walking out.  That doesn’t really happen in this production.  Lloyd Evans is spot-on in his mischievous description of Toby Stephens’ performance as that of a comedy bounder who finds himself in the wrong play.  Ibsen’s portrait of the Helmers depends in part on Torvald being almost well-meaning enough to counterbalance his unthinking condescension to Nora and his disregard of her in the fourth-act crunch; the way Stephens plays Harris’s version of the character, the surprise is that Nora has stayed with him for so long… indeed, that she ever felt any affection for him in the first place.  Consequently, this is a version of the play that tries to give us a new view of the forest by cutting down the colossal tree at its dramatic heart.


More pensive reviews for Monsters at the Arcola, with its points about community and society responses to the murder of James Bulger in 1993. Niklas Rådström’s script makes repeated references to the possibility of audience intervention in the play, and as written it seriously considers such an option and asks that productions of the play do so in performance.  And this is the thing that puzzled me.  I know director Christopher Haydon: he’s intelligent, skilled and conscientious, and he assures me that the company paid full attention in rehearsal to the possibility of such intervention, and were well prepared to cope with it.  And yet, when I watched the play, I saw (or felt) no perceptible opportunity in its staging, pacing, pitching etc, for such spontaneous involvement.

Now, I don’t mean that I was looking for such an opportunity in order to interrupt the play myself; you may recall the events of last August on the Edinburgh Fringe, when I and my fellow reviewer Chris Wilkinson took matters into our own hands in an excessively oppressive play about Auschwitz.  But this is the crux of the matter: for reviewer Chris Wilkinson and director Christopher Haydon are one and the same.  For Chris of all people, with this of all plays, to muff an opportunity of this kind, is utterly bewildering to me.
Written for Theatre Record.

Copyright © Ian Shuttleworth; all rights reserved.

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