Star rating - 8/10
The latest adaption by Bryony Lavery of Ibsen’s 1897 play A Doll’s House at the Royal Exchange Theatre is somehow a less claustrophobic and sombre affair than when it was performed by the Library Theatre company in 2011. It is the story of the marriage between Nora Helmer, who is the wife of a bank manager on the verge of a triumphant promotion. Nora and her husband Torvald have been seemingly happily married for eight years, and have three small children and a happy, cosy, and idyllic home.
But Nora is hiding a secret that she has successfully managed to keep from her husband for years. And she is forced to confront it when she has a chance encounter from an old friend from her past. Ibsen’s views on the position of women were radical in his day, and are still pretty progressive now, and the events in his play still have the ability to shock.
Nora is forced to see what her doting husband really thinks of her, and to confront what role she has been playing through their relationship and her position in it. She is the doll of the title, and his patronising attitude towards her becomes ever more repugnant as the play progresses.
What makes this version special, directed here by Exchange regular Greg Hersov, is the sparkling and compelling performance given by Cush Jumbo as Nora. She is making her third appearance here, and is growing in stature with each appearance. When she first appeared in Pygmalion in 2010 she was good; by 2011 she was truly great in As You Like It; and now she is a real star. David Sturzaker is good as the smothering, patronising husband Torvald, and the supporting cast are also solid. . The themes of marriage, honesty, honour and love are explored in a relevant and important Ibsen classic, which is just a bit too much of a safe choice for the Exchange for my liking, as it has been done so often and so recently. However, Cush Jumbo is really worth seeing, she is mesmerising and a very talented actor.