A Doll's House Play | Sport For Jove

Director's Notes

Every interview I’ve done about this production has raised the issue of the play’s ‘relevance’ to our contemporary world. To my mind, a classic only survives as a classic because it has remained relevant. In many ways Nora Helmer is a contemporary figure. We read or watch this play and think, well, here is a recognizable character, a recognizable woman.

When I commissioned a new adaptation of Hedda Gabler from Joanna Murray-Smith for State Theatre Company of South Australia, it was always our intention to set that production in a contemporary world, but updating a classic isn’t the only way to make it speak to a contemporary audience. Sometimes there’s a richer dialogue to be had with our own times if you set the play in its or iginal period, prompting us to wonder if we really treat each other any differently today? Have we evolved in our thinking at all? And as to the question of the play’s continued relevance, has any idea relating to our shared humanity ever ceased to exist? There are antiquated, outmoded ideas, for sure, and Ibsen wrote about the destructive power of dead ideas – a lot – but the world is filled with people who still believe in them, and who determine and deform the lives of others through strict adherence to those ideas, to those ‘mindforg’d manacles’, to those original and
enduring patriarchal default settings.

A Doll’s House is, in part, about this kind of mind-control. It’s a play about forcing your beliefs on others, not allowing them to find their own way in the world, not even allowing them to finish a  sentence. Whilst working on it for the past five weeks, I’ve discovered it’s a play about intolerance,
about inflexible modes of thinking. It’s a play full of resonant ideas for today – the fear of telling the truth, the transformative, healing power of love; and the shocking and exhilarating opportunity to question everything.

“A woman cannot be herself in contemporary society; it is exclusively a male society… Spiritual battle. Oppressed and confused by her belief in authority, she loses faith in her moral right and ability to raise her children. Bitterness. Love of life, of home, of husband and children and family. Typically female turning aside from the thoughts. Sudden, recurring bouts of anxiety and fear. Everything must be borne alone. Irrevocable approach of catastrophe, inevitable. Despair, battle and defeat.” [From Ibsen’s first statement of the theme of A Doll’s House, in a note dated 19 October 1878]

I’ve chosen to set it in 1878, the period of its composition. I think the play’s global popularity is testament enough to its continued relevance. Women of this class and time could only be wives, mothers, or daughters. Examine the lives of the three women in the play – Nora, Kristine, and Helen. How have their lives played out? What freedom can they have without a husband, and without money? Money is the more binding of the corsets that the female characters have to deal with. Women’s clothing of the late 19th century didn’t allow a lot of freedom to move, and in terms of its examination of gender politics, that’s also what the play’s about – the freedom to move. The play explores ideas about how gender shapes our parenting, and the central challenge for so many of us - how to be true to yourself, whilst also being married and being a parent. Ibsen insisted that Nora is an example to us all in finding out who we are and becoming that person, whatever the cost.

I’ve written this adaptation myself. Every new production of a foreign-language classic needs a new adaptation, and creating one reinforces the fact that when we do that, we are re-examining every scene, every word, and every moment.

When contemporary directors look at the classics like Hedda Gabler, Miss Julie, or A Doll’s House, they’ve frequently changed the endings, or rewritten the play entirely.  Thomas Ostermeier’s German production of A Doll’s House [entitled Nora], had the central character dressed as Lara Croft shooting her husband, who then fell into a giant fish tank and drowned. That’s not how the play ends. And I wondered, when I saw that production, if there’s a way to fully render the shock of the play’s ending without pulling out a gun? I think so. Just listen to the ideas expressed in the final scene. They’re shocking enough. Men have been the protagonists on our world stage for centuries – we tell their stories over and over. But this is a play that puts a woman’s experience at its centre, a play about a woman caught in perpetual flight but with nowhere to run as she tries to adjust her face to match what other people expect of her. A grown woman with three children who can’t even eat chocolate in front of her husband because he’s banned it. No wonder she can’t tell him the truth about anything! Why must she hide her pleasure?

The main premise that Ibsen explored in his plays is that middle-class society is built on hypocrisy and lies. His contempt for Norwegian society and the restraints placed on women forms the bedrock on which he built plays like Hedda Gabler, Ghosts, and A Doll’s House. Ibsen is a writer who shows
how human beings try to survive with their souls intact in a completely materialistic world, where only the power of money rules. This way of thinking affects the way we relate to each other. The characters in these plays are under huge financial pressure and they sacrifice their souls to their
acquisitive desires.

Every relationship is symbiotic, and so A Doll’s House is not just the story of a woman, it’s the story of a marriage, of flawed characters in a flawed relationship, and of other characters who intersect with that marriage. Communication has failed. Nora can’t share her truth, and Torvald can’t listen. Until the final scene. Early in Act One, Torvald says “Nora, I know you.” But he doesn’t. He doesn’t know her at all. Towards the end of the play, in a crucial moment, Nora says “Don’t interrupt me. Just listen.” But can he? It’s a scene of painful but very necessary truth-telling.

“…the out-and-out confrontational confidence of the totally ignorant is, in my experience, gendered. Every woman knows what I’m talking about. It’s the presumption that makes it hard, at times, for any woman in any field; that keeps women from speaking up and from being heard when they dare; that crushes young women into silence by indicating that this is not their world. It trains us in self doubt and self-limitation just as it exercises men’s unsupported overconfidence.” [Rebecca Solnit, Men Explain Things to Me, 2014]

A Doll’s House is not about emancipation for all womanhood, it’s about one woman’s awakening. She discover s and more importantly articulates how her identity has been defined and controlled by men, but now she sees that she must become a new person, and that she wants something else. She’s full of doubts about her relationship with her husband and her place in this warm, comfortable home that she has created with him. That’s what happens with real couples. They don’t live in a romantic bubble from the moment they fall in love to the moment of their deaths. There’s pain and recrimination, there’s guilt and accusations, there’s loneliness, and there’s the death of passion. They do not understand each other. Nora ends the play with no idea about what’s right or wrong; her instinctive feeling on the one hand, and her belief in authority on the other, bring her into complete confusion. Everything is up for grabs, every idea, every ideological stance, can be questioned.

It’s the job of writers to travel light when it comes to preconceptions, to go into the dark with their eyes open. Ibsen does that. Intrepid iconoclast that he is, he’s also not afraid to smash a few idols on the way.
 

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Reviews

"In theatre, as in life, seeing is always better than telling and in this production of A Doll’s House, the seeing is in sharp focus and the telling is told with great clarity."
"From start to finish, the production keeps you riveted."
"On the night I attended, it was mostly, a school audience....The focused and hushed attention was remarkable. How fortunate for these young people to have such a lucid and true performance so early in their theatre going lives."
"Nora is played by Matilda Ridgway with outstanding dynamism and depth. Her delivery is a thorough study of one of Western theatre’s most celebrated characters."
"Sport For Jove win yet again at making “old” plays new. Ibsen’s A Doll’s House is far from dated; its messages and meanings are potent and striking, and, in the hands of Sport For Jove, skilfully hit their mark."

Cast & Crew

Cast

Helen
Nils Krogstad
Dr. Rank
Ivar
Torvald Helmer
Kristine Linde
Nora Helmer

Crew

Director
Lighting Designer
Designer
Choreographer
Assistant Stage Manager
Assistant Stage Manager
Stage Manager

Venues / FAQ’s

The Reginald Theatre, Seymour Centre

The Reginald Theatre is a small, informal studio-style theatre that holds 150 to 200 people. With fixed raked seating can be supplemented by additional seating in front of the stage area this space is ideal for theatre and dance performances.