|Augustina Seymour as Nora. Picture by Keith Pattison|
KESWICK theatre-goers who thought the recent successful run of The History Boys would be a tough act to follow need have no worries. Ibsen's A Doll's House has just started in the studio and is going to blow your socks off.
It's hard to believe this was written in 1879 - the theme of female emancipation meant it could have been written in the 1920s, 1960s or even today. There's bankers, gutter-press reporters, evil money-lenders - and even an attempt to hack into someone's private correspondence. I had to check the cast list to make sure no-one called Leveson was going to turn up in the second act.
It says in the programme notes that this is currently the world's most performed play but Keswick director Mary Papadima has given it a fresh, exciting and gritty makeover which will make even those familiar with the play glad to see it again. For those who don't know the play, there's a real treat in store. Fear not that this is by some 20th century Norwegian playwright. Papadima and the cast make sure it's digested with ease as this gripping drama unfolds.
It is based on a true story. One of Ibsen's friends - Laura Kieler - took out a loan at a time when women just didn't do that sort of thing. When her husband found out he divorced her and had her committed to an asylum. Only Ibsen appears to have found anything wrong with this! We may laugh at the notion now and the play only gives a nod to the true origins, concentrating more on society's attitude to women in general and mothers in particular. More than that, it also asks both men and women to question their role in society.
Augustina Seymour is the wife and mother, Nora, who is hiding a dreadful secret. She pitches the performance perfectly as just another 'doll' in the doll's house before starting to wake up and determine her own destiny. Nicholas Goode is the bewildered husband Torvald and Philip Rham the slightly awkward 'third party' in the cosy marriage. But it's James Duke as the sinister money-lender who adds sizzle to the whole proceedings and cranks up the pressure to almost intolerable levels.
Papadima, however, steers well clear of black and white Victorian melodrama. The motives are all very believable and open to heated arguments among the audience on their way home.
A Doll's House is on one level, a gripping enough drama of deceit, blackmail and betrayal. But it's the play's central theme of a woman (and man's) role in society which ensure the play's relevance even today. And Papadima serves up a master stroke at the end to make sure the stunning ending is played out to its very best - not least thanks to a terrific performance from Augustina Seymour.
This will rank as one of Keswick's best productions and I for one can't wait to see it again.
* A Doll's House is currently being staged at Keswick Theatre