Theatre review: A Doll’s House @ Royal Exchange, Manchester

By Kev McCready

Performances of ‘A Doll’s House’ are like buses.  You wait ages for one, and then two turn up at once. 

As a production at Edinburgh’s Royal Lyceum pulls away, it pulls in here. A play asking important questions about morality, mortality, escape and the human condition.  It’s also got the clunky narrative of an automatic gearbox in Act Two, but that’s just the writer in me speaking. 

What is surprising is that Bryony Lavery’s adaptation is a tight, bright, funny and dark one.  It retains the classic lines, but keeps Ibsen’s philosophical questions to the fore. 

Veering close to the rocks of farce/restoration comedy in Act One, our sympathy is with Nora, as she keeps her deceptions spinning like plates.  Act Two copes well with those gearbox changes, and keeps your eyes glued to the stage. 

Performance wise, David Sturzaker didn’t ever really nail Torvald, but I was particularly drawn to Jamie DeCourcey’s gloomy, syphilitic (well, you would be) Dr Rank. 

It also resists the tricks and gimmicks in its staging that is usually catnip to set designers.  Where it really worked was in terms of costume design – rough wool and morning suits for the ‘low’ characters, silken finery for the ‘high’ characters.

Ultimately, this is Cush Jumbo’s stage as Nora.  You can’t take your eyes off her, either in her childlike innocence or blind panic. 

Her rehearsal of The Tarantella is pure mania, played at a low volume.  Nora is the female equivalent of Lear – actors try and fail on a regular basis.

This is a subtle, ‘less is more’ performance, which marks her down as one of Britain’s greatest stage actors.

Best enjoyed with a bag of macaroons, ‘A Doll’s House’ is a swan of a play, with grace and panic in equal measure. 

Image courtesy of Royal Exchange Theatre, via YouTube, with thanks.

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