A Doll's House
I was first introduced to Ibsen’s work by my college English teacher. I’d expressed interest in feminist writing and she insisted that I read A Doll’s House. I’ve been obsessed with the play ever since, and Liverpool Network Theatre Group’s production of this classic did not disappoint!
On Thursday I returned to The Hope Street Theatre eager to see this adaptation of one of my favourite plays. I was surprised and delighted to see a pink Christmas tree and two china dolls as we entered the space that was once the Masonic Hall.
A note from the director gave reference to feminism, the Me-Too movement and the illusion of perfection through social media. I was instantly intrigued.
What I adore about A Doll’s House is Ibsen’s understanding of the lead female role, Nora. Written in 1879, Ibsen somehow empathises with the role of the “Mother” within a nuclear family. He explores the pressure that the patriarchy force upon women and the retaliation that comes from this. Surrounded in a world of misogynistic ideals and male privilege, he wrote of the oppression that male domination causes to women. Ibsen was most definitely a feminist.
Like any great leading role, the audience had a love/hate relationship with Nora – played captivatingly by Jessica Martin. We experienced Nora’s metamorphosis from the doting, insecure housewife to the defiant, powerful, rebellious woman.
Many people who know the play struggle with their opinion of the somewhat problematic ending. Spoiler alert: Nora leaves her husband and children. This may seem cold-hearted and unfair however, this is Nora’s complete rejection of the patriarchy. She abandons all gender roles forced upon her by the toxic society that she is imprisoned in. The role of the mother to her children, the wife to her husband. She deserts them both to become Nora, her own person. Empowerment in 1879 came at a cost.
As a modern audience we may find the abandonment of her children radical and unnecessary. However, the Victorian era needed the type of feminist that Nora was. A woman was seen as property to her husband. In the eyes of society and the law, she was seen as Helmer’s wife, not Nora Helmer. The only way to be free was to cut off everything that was holding her down.
The cast of eight created an entertaining and intense portrayal of Ibsen’s play but it was Jessica Martin who (quite rightly) stole the show. Speaking to other audience members in the interval, everyone was in awe of her ability to captivate the audience with her portrayal of Nora. Spending almost the entire play on stage, Martin didn’t fault once. She allowed us to experience Nora’s journey and grow with the character. By the end of the play, Nora seemed almost unrecognisable – reborn into a feminist icon.
Of course, compared to the oppression of the Victorian era, equality for all genders has progressed dramatically. Yet we can still learn a lot from Nora’s strength, boldness and unapologetic feminism.
This was a thought-provoking and inspiring production.