Sunday, June 23, 2019


A Doll’s House Part 2

Written by Lucas Hnath.Directed by Caroline Stacey. Designed by Imogen Keen, Gerry Corcoran and Kyle Sheedy. Street One. The Street Theatre. June 15-23

Reviewed by Peter Wilkins

Rachel Berger as Nora Helmer and P.j. Williams as Torvald 
Helmer in A Doll’s House Part 2.  Photo by Shelly Higgs
 At an Adelaide Festival, German director, Thomas Ostermayer shocked audiences with his audacious production of Henrik Ibsen’s  ground-breaking play about marriage and relationships. At the end of the play, Nora, finding herself suffocated by the expectations of a conservative society , decides to leave her husband, Torvald and their three children and seek an independent life on her own. In Ibsen’s play, Nora walks out the door, creating what many have called the loudest door slam in theatrical history.
Ostermayer takes it further in his provocative production, when Nora, driven to despair, and seeing no way out of her entrapment shoots Torvald, who falls back on stage into an aquarium. The lights fade om Nora with a giun in her hand as the water  around Torvald’s lifeless body turns red with his blood. It leaves no hope for redemption, no possibility of reunion and Nora’s fate is sealed in one dastardly act of independent will.
Rachel Berger as Nora and Camilla Blunden as
Anne-Marie A Doll’s House Part 2.  Photo by Shelly Higgs
 Playwright, Lucas Hnath adopts a more feasible possibility with his hit play, A Doll’s House, Part 2. Fifteen year have passed since Nora (Rachel Berger) walked out on Torvald (P.J. Williams) in 1879. The year is now 1894, and after receiving a letter from her old maid Anne-Marie (Camilla Blunden), Nora returns to reveal that her new life as a wealthy writer is in peril, after a judge has discovered that she was not divorced, as she had expected. She therefore returns to request that Torvald file for divorce.
Her surprise appearance raises again the arguments that compelled her departure, and director Caroline Stacey’s  production at the Street Theatre has the blast of a bullet, the slice of a knife and the twist and turn of a corkscrew argument. From the appearance of Nora in the light of the doorway and Anne-Marie’s  shocked recognition, the audience find themselves riveted to the reverberations of old arguments and inextricably caught up in new insights into Nora’s reasons for leaving, her transformation into a wealthy, assured, free-thinking and  independent woman. And yet, her independence remains elusive. A man threatens her new life. Only a man can file for divorce. Nora found a fragile freedom, but everywhere, society’s laws and expectations remain in chains. As she leaves at the end of the play to face her fate, which remains ambivalent and yet he only responsible course of action to take, she tells Torvald that she hopes to see change within her lifetime. The age  of the suffragette movement is emerging and perhaps the next chapter will be A Doll’s House Part 3.
Lily Constantine as Emmy and Rachel Berger as Nora   
In A Doll’s House Part 2.  Photo by Shelly Higgs
Hnath’s drama is conjecture. We are confronted by the relationship between men and women in a contemporary society. Generational attitudes remain embodied in Nora’s confrontation with her daughter Emmy (Lily Constantine) while tradition and status provide security for Anne-Marie. Over a century later, Hnath holds a mirror to our time and seems to ask, not so much what has changed, but what remains the same and needs still to change. Interpolated with contemporary idiom,the play and Stacey’s production is powerfully contemporary, startlingly intelligent and strikingly  relevant
Anachronism reminds us that Ibsen’s play, Hnath’s text, Imogen Keen’s set design and the sudden blasts of electronic music all presage a future where the issues underpinning the action of Nora’s departure and her return are as important in today’s society, and need to change.
P.J. Williams as Torvald Helmer in
A Doll’s House Part 2.  Photo by Shelly Higgs
Stacey, cognisant of the play’s inherent argument and debate, has introduced a formal style with her actors. Often they adopt an operatic convention of address to the audience, returning to a confrontational interaction in the heat of the argument. It is a style readily adopted by the four very fine actors. Berger’s Nora is indeed changed, wearing her years and her assurance with a quiet confidence. It is a performance that grew on me as the play developed. William’s Torvald is a tour de force of confusion and bewilderment, as he is compelled once again to question  his values. Constantine give a captivating performance as a young woman, contradicting a mother she hardly knew and avowing a love for a man she hopes to marry. As argument and counter argument are flung back and forth between Nora, Torvald and Emmy, it is Blunden’s consistent and  convincing performance that gives credence to her spcial status and role in the family.
Stacey’s productions at the Street Theatre continue to offer professional excellence, and this intriguing and thought provoking staging of Hnath’s fascinating and  absorbing insight into Henrik Ibsen’s A Doll’s House is no exception. It is also an actor’s  perfect prequel before embarking on the original.