Tuesday, 7 May 2013

A Doll's House, Royal Exchange Manchester, 3/5/13

A Doll's House is my second attempt at Ibsen. My first encounter with him was The Lady from The Sea here at the Royal Exchange and me and Henrik didn't really get on. I found it very angst ridden and dull, despite fantastic performances from the company. So I approached my second outing with a certain degree of caution.

Luckily, this production, adapted by Bryony Lavery and directed by Greg Hersov, managed to change my mind. There was much to like about this show, well rounded characters, who developed as events progressed, much wry humour, interesting observations about the nature of human needs and trust, a simple but effective set and fantastic performances from the cast.

photo : Johnathan Keenan
The lead role of Nora is taken by Cush Jumbo, on her third visit to the Royal Exchange (previously in Pygmalion and As You Like It, both wonderful performances) I am so glad The Theatre was able to tempt here to a third visit. She is an amazingly talented actress and it is a joy to watch her on stage. I struggled to describe what it was that made her acting so special when I wrote about her before, and I have the same difficulty here. Her performance is just so agile and well crafted, she lights up the stage without ever making it all about her. Nora is a complex character, initially portrayed as frivolous and vain, but this develops as we understand more about what has shaped her character and the nature of her relationship with her husband. Jumbo delivers a balanced and skilled performance, with a deftness of touch that is mesmerising to watch.

I was also extremely impressed with Kelly Hotten's Mrs Linde. From the wry reaction to her initial audience with Nora, to the heart rending twist in the second half where she opens her heart to Krogstad about her need to be needed, this role was excellently portrayed and convincing.

And if I'm picking out cast members for mention, I cannot leave out the complete star of the show in the performance I saw. A lovely trio of kids have been brought together to play Nora's three children (three teams in rotation across the run). But little Lily Blossom Tait stole my heart at this performance. A great performance given with such joy, it's the first time I have ever seen an actress skip off stage she was enjoying it that much, yet she met every cue. Delightful!

All in all this production did manage to successfully tackle my prejudices about Ibsen. The characters were complex and interesting, especially the female roles, there was a lot more humour than I was expecting, pacing was lively and the plot engaging, and Cush Jumbo was a joy to watch on stage once again! Bravo!

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