Using multiple actors to play the same character is a technique usually employed when a story demands that a character grows up before our eyes. In Stef Smith’s adaptation of Henrik Ibsen’s classic play A Doll’s House they instead play the same character across multiple points in time, points which played a significant role in the history of feminism: 1918, when women over 30 could vote for the first time; 1968, when the contraceptive pill gave women greater power over their own bodies; and 2018, when the #MeToo movement spoke out against sexual violence all across the world.
Anna Russell-Martin, Maryam Hamidi, and Molly Vevers take turns playing both the role of Nora, a housewife trying to hold everything together and keeping secrets about how she does so, and the role of her friend Christine, who visits out of the blue to reconnect with her. The men in her life are played by the same actors throughout. Although each Nora has their own time period, the question of which Nora is being addressed – and which Nora has the stage – shifts slightly all the time as they interweave and even interact with each other. You may fear this would get confusing, but on the contrary, it is deeply involving and never loses the audience. Elizabeth Freestone’s is careful in her direction and the action flows between the periods seamlessly. The same can be said for Smith’s script, which shifts ever so subtly to fit the time period without being jarring to the tone of the performance.
The actors’ performances are all fantastic. The women behind Nora each share characteristics, such as the nervous giggle that barely disguises the character’s never-ending fear and anxiety, yet each still make the character their own. Russell-Martin’s 2018 Nora has a sharper, more bitter side than her predecessors, and the idea that we as women are now more vocal, though still trapped in a cycle of patriarchal oppression, resonates through her performance.
Nora: A Doll’s House does something new with a popular script, something we haven’t seen before; yet, at the same time, it is not so unorthodox that it loses a new audience. Someone who has never seen or heard of the original could see this production and be equally engrossed by it – equally moved, equally shocked – as if they had seen an entirely straight production of the classic that had a lot to admire technically and creatively. In many ways, it is a perfect adaptation.