Art doll

Nora breaks the chains, but not our hearts

A doll’s house ★★★½
Ensemble Théâtre, until July 16

Edvard Munch’s most famous painting, The Scream, could be a representation of Nora. She never emits this cry from her Norwegian compatriot Henrik Ibsen. A doll’s house (dating to 1879, 14 years earlier), but she cries inside for most of its runtime, and finally gives vent to eight years of frustration with her dysfunctional marriage. Part of the art of interpreting the piece consists in making the transition from the silent cry to the moment of the “clap” believable: to signal the slow construction that underlies it.

Chantelle Jamieson stars as Nora in The Ensemble Studio’s production of A Doll’s House. Credit:Prudence Upton

Ibsen denied that it was a proto-feminist play in its conception, although it was, and is in reality, depicting a woman breaking the chains of patriarchy. There are many dangers in tampering with your genius, which is why Mark Kilmurry, artistic director of the Ensemble and director of this production, showed courage by asking Joanna Murray-Smith to adapt A doll’s house for contemporary Australian decor. Like any classic, only the surface of the piece is dated after all.

But Murray-Smith did well. She removed a few minor characters, trimmed the text, and gave the dialogue a current focus that feels natural rather than awkward. She retained Ibsen’s spirit and added her own twists to it, reminding us that the playwright’s goal was one of amused affection for all his characters, even as he subjected them to torment. Additionally, she heightened the sexual attraction between Nora and family friend Dr. Rank, now called George, while keeping the latter’s drollness intact. “All my patients insist on living,” he tells Nora, “even when they have no reason to live.”

Naturalist ensemble by Véronique Benett at the Ensemble Studio production of A Doll's House.

Naturalist ensemble by Véronique Benett at the Ensemble Studio production of A Doll’s House. Credit:Prudence Upton

The room is Nora’s as much as Hamlet is Hamlet, and Kilmurry offered the prized role to Chantelle Jamieson, whose performance is something of a roller coaster parallel to Nora’s emotional empowerment. She’s almost overly animated in her itch to catch Nora’s levity and faux liveliness in the opening scenes, before settling into a more compelling performance as the character gains in complexity. But then she struggles to meet the demands of emotional breakdown, especially in the monologue when she’s alone towards the end, so the impact of the piece isn’t as devastating as it should be. be. If Jamieson can dig deep enough to be more genuinely vulnerable in these later scenes, the production will instantly grow in stature.

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It’s a problem that, to a lesser extent, also plagues David Soncin as Krogstad, the disreputable financier who’s out to blackmail Nora. James Lugton, meanwhile, is an excellent Torvald. Crucial to Ibsen’s scheme is that Torvald is not knowingly malicious in his treatment of Nora, merely pompous, self-absorbed, condescending and thoughtless, and Lugton puts a breezy veneer on his jaw-dropping, laugh-out-loud hypocrisy.

Lizzie Schebesta is excellent as Kristina, Nora’s longtime, worldly, and scheming friend, and Tim Walter is even better as George, delivering the series’ most well-rounded performance by combining the spirit of the doctor, intelligence, weariness of the world, thwarted love and mortal disease.