Porcelain tea pots, china cups and a collection of small white spoons hang from the ceiling while a fluffy Christmas tree compliments a clutch of pink presents and Torvald’s pale blue desk perfectly; two cream bell-shaped lampshades cast a benign light over Nora’s toy paradise – Irina Borisova’s set is a pastel-coloured cage that wouldn’t look out of place in the pages of Homes and Gardens.
This is a sugar cube of a production, but one only loosely connected to Ibsen. Creative producer and dramaturg Mari Rettedal-Westlake has bent and shaped the play to suit a feminist agenda, as though this play needed any more help in this area: Torvald drops his misogynistic clangers like the Duke of Edinburgh on a particularly bad day and when Nora eventually leaves at the end she’s two seconds away from finger snapping her way out of there in an exit that the Sex In The City girls would be proud of.
This is a heavy-handed over simplification of Ibsen’s text, one confused further by the rather puzzling presence of a chorus of norns, creatures of Norse myth, “female beings who rule the destiny of gods and men”. These norns have taken on the roles of the ghosts of Christmases past, present and future; they swoon around, mournfully manipulating Nora. Their movements, all wide eyes and long sighs, serve only to diffuse the loneliness of Nora’s gilded existence. They appear to externalise Nora’s inner anguish, which seems unnecessary as Gina Abolins does a pretty good job of this herself, giving the only engaging performance of the evening.
While she seems to relish playing Nora as a coquettish nubile plaything, she also convinces the audience of Nora’s transition from tantrum-throwing princess to independent-minded adult. Ironically it feels as though the other actors are the dolls here, although Emma Deegan and Alexander Gatehouse, as Kristine and Nils respectively, bring a moment of real passion to otherwise presentational proceedings. Director Alex Crampton seems hobbled by Rettedal-Westlake’s version of the text and apart from the incongruous addition of the norns, this is a fairly bland staging.
The oppressive heat in the Arcola’s second studio didn’t help matters (it’s telling when the biggest reaction you get from an audience is in response to a reference to the hot weather). Perhaps this is perhaps one of the reasons why my tolerance for this production was slim. But ultimately I think my irritation stems from the feeling that this sugary version of Ibsen’s play managed to strip it of its power and replace it with something altogether more prosaic. By bludgeoning its audience with modern viewpoints, simplifying the male characters and adding extra female ones to no apparent benefit, Space Productions have robbed Ibsen’s play of much of its potency. In doing so they have done both the text and their audience a disservice.