Saturday, 14 September 2019

REVIEW: A Doll’s House at the Lyric Hammersmith


This production of A Doll’s House is an adaptation from Henrik Ibsen’s book, first performed in 1879 in Copenhagen, Denmark. Tanika Gupta’s version remains in the same year yet set in Calcutta. The leading lady, originally named Nora, is now a young Bengali woman, Niru (Anjana Vasan), married to an older Englishman, Tom (Elliot Cowan) who ‘worships and exoticises her’ (Gupta, 2019). A Doll’s House explores the relationship between Niru and Tom during the colonialism of India by the English. This determines the power dynamics between the couple and their friend, Dr Rank (Colin Tierney) in a bizarre way. Her husband is creepy and subtly controlling- quite disturbing to watch onstage. Meanwhile Niru battles the anxiety of her secret debts to Kaushik Das (Assad Zaman). 

The play is truly dazzling and has an exceptionally talented cast, led by Rachel O’Riordan’s outstanding direction. Every performer is sensationally realistic and allows you to become fully absorbed in the action. This can also be credited to Lily Arnold’s design. Set in the courtyard of Niru and Tom’s house, combined with Kevin Treacy’s lighting and Gregory Clarke’s sound design, I was completely immersed in the Calcutta surroundings; transported back in time to the house and in the moment. Live musician, Arun Ghosh, built the atmosphere (as well as rose suspicion with his mysterious disappearances off stage!) and added a traditional feel to the play.

Despite the era, A Doll’s House did not feel dated or historic in any way. The language was relevant, humorous and intelligent. I thoroughly enjoyed it but could not shake the feeling that I have many unanswered questions and am unable to put my finger on the motives of some characters. Niru’s character development from the cheeky, loveable wife who was ‘not brought up to comment’ to a panicking, powerless woman and ending as an empowered and liberated single woman cutting her ties was the most fascinating part of the narrative but the play requires a lot of thought and attention to understand the deeper layers behind what is happening onstage. I would love to know more about Mrs Lahiri’s (Tripti Tripuraneni) ulterior purpose for arriving out of the blue, as well as the reason for the Doctor being so prevalent then having no final moments onstage before his assumed death. 

A Doll’s House is a spectacularly thought-provoking play, I would recommend it to those with an interest in historical drama.

Review by Hannah Storey

Rating: ★★★★

Seat: Stalls Q9 | Price of Ticket: £23
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