September 20, 2011
BY: NICOLA MACLEOD
Theatre New Brunswick and the Montgomery Theatre joined forces for the first time earlier this month in a production of Henrik Ibsen’s classic A Doll’s House. Adapting a classic is difficult, but Duncan McIntosh pulls it off with finesse and ease. Together, McIntosh and director, Caleb Marshall, turned what I expected to be a boring show into an emotionally charged and gripping play. McIntosh’s interpretation of A Doll’s House ran in St. Thomas University’s Black Box Theatre from September 15th-18th. It also showed in Prince Edward Island’s Montgomery Theatre in North Rustico from September 1st-11th.
With some new Canadian names now set in a maritime capital, A Doll’s House is the classic story of a woman’s place in 19th century life. Nora Holman (Katie Swift) is a giddy housewife with a secret. She seems to be happily married to her husband Godfrey (Caleb Marshall). They lead a financially sound lifestyle taking trips, buying gifts and attending parties. The Holmans live in a very different time than our own. It was a time when having a “featherbrain” wife was valued and carried positive connotations. Women are mere dolls, the playthings of their husbands. Right from Act I it seems that Nora is a never stopping wind-up toy when her husband is present. She skips around the parlor munching on candies and humming tunes. It is only when Nora is alone with the lawyer, Niles Krogstad (Gordon Miller), that we see both characters’ true colors shine. Not only is Nora not a dim wit… she is an entirely different and more intelligent, independent person than we thought her to be.
McIntosh spun the core themes and plot of Ibsen’s 19th century Norwegian script into a modern, relatable production. McIntosh brings life to the characters while translating the original script into a lighter, more Maritime-friendly version, shortening the play by a 1/3 of its original length. Director Caleb Marshall shapes the production so that moods and emotions otherwise expressed verbally in Hibsen’s original are conveyed using body language and vocal tones.
The small cast of 5 gives a stunning performance in this tale of perfection, approval and obedience. Whether it is Niles Krogstad’s sheer bitterness, Nora Holman’s yappy fakeness or Kristine Lynde (Rebecca Parent)’s dry pessimisms, the entire cast keeps us engaged from the light mood of Act I to the serious despair of Act III. One of the more captivating performances was the beautiful character contrast portrayed by Parent and Swift. Kristine and Nora are opposite characters; they are everything that the other isn’t. This continues throughout the show. Even as the tables turn, the two friends prove that opposition is true friendship.
Done through excellent acting, effective gestures, perfect costumes, cunning symbolism and a simple yet engaging set, I never drifted from the present or lost interest. The constant movement on set, thought excessive at times, results in the viewer being fully immersed into Nora’s story. Even during intermission, the set remains active and alive. The lighting is original and creative. Instead of plain and dull stage lights, this production has flickering flames from the fireplace and invisible curtains that cut off and let in light.
A Doll’s House is a refreshing take on a classic drama about the strong will and diversity of women. McIntosh’s adaptation is a must see.