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The P lay Produced

was about the right of an y indi ­ .ising th e warmth and affec tion vidual to self-determination and between them at the beginning of by Hcnri/;, Ihsen freedom from the ties of conven­ the play; I also hoped to have the RlIIh TrevGn discus ses her pro­ tion. The He lm e rs ' ostensibly audience mor e sy mpathetic to dll('tion for Th e Comedy Clllh uf happy man'iage is shatt ered not so Torvald to start with, and tip the Kensingtol1. much by the blackmailin g out­ balance gradually till it was ora When I put forward 'A DolJ's s ide r but by the way the hu sband th ey werc with at the end of the Hou s e ' as my choice for the play . react s to the discov e ry of his Spring production of the Comedy Kro gst ad , the ' villain' of th e wife's misdemeanour. Nora real­ Club I was sticking my neck out a izes that the fairy tale world she piece, is again not a s imple part, bit as I had never seen it per­ has lived in ne ver really existed as he can come ove r as a typical formed! However. three factors and sets out, by herself - an melodrama villain, which doesn't unhenrd of thing for a nineteenth jell with his love-'icene with Mrs century heroine to do - to discov­ Linde in Ac t 3. He is bitter and er what reality is. resentful. rathcr than ev il. and is Nora and Torvalcl HeiIner, and getting at Ton'ald initially rather Nils Kro gs tad, th e outsider. a re the main characters, and Nora carries th e load of the play. She is constantly referred to as a child, ­ but must actually he in her mid­ twenties at least. She is immature, childlike , having been s heltered and cosse tted by he r father and her husband. She must ha ve a c hild 's gaiety and charm and impulsiveness, bur is also as se lf­ ST MARY ABBOTS THEATRE centred, devious and ruthless as a _ .- - -- - - - --­ child. It needs. and I was lucky than hi s wife. We pla yed him influenced me; the theme of per­ enough to get. a strong actre ss ljuiet and subdued , alm os t o bse­ sonal re bellion and finding one­ who can convey both this and the ljuious , in his first sce ne with self had strong appeal , the play mature woman who eme rges at Nora, only becoming menacing in Act 2. after his dismissal from his contains one of the great female the end. roles (and like all groups we need Torvald is a difficult part. He is post. older than Nora, a sllccessful The confidants, Mrs Linde and Dr play s with opportunities for women) and, following on from lawyer, kind, correct, devastating­ Rank, are more lightly sketched. Mrs Linde has had to face trou­ ly honest and truthful. He is al so that , I needed a small cnst play to replace "Much Ado About Noth­ weak , selfish, patronising and a bles Nora has been shielded from: ing ', my first choice ,which had death. an unhapp y m a rriage, a typical Victorian male chauvinist coLlapsed from lack of men. pig! The problem is to con vey all broken roman ce, and they hav e PLOT, CASTING AND this without totally losing th e made her stron g but pessimistic. REHEARSALS. audience's s ympathy with the Dr Rank is d e s c ribed as "th e Nora's door slam at the end of the c haracter, which would des troy, I cloudy background to our sunlit happiness': he is the cy nical , felt , the point of Nora's dilemma. play has echoed down the years and finds new support the se days Unle ss the audience feels she is melancholy bys tander. dying of from the Women 's Movement, an unplea sa nt dise a s e. He is actually going to lose something secretly in love with Nora and th e but Ibsen himself e mphatically of value to her, her intended sacri­ denied that he hnd written a femi­ fice is diminished. We tried to scene where she tri es to seduce deal with this problem by emphahim in order to get him to lend nist trac t, asse rting that the play her tbe money to pay her debt is one of the most diffi c ult in th e play. The con ventions of the peri­ od meant that Ibse n was unable to make th e ir sex ual word-play explicit a nd inst e ad uses an exchange of references to aphro­ disiacs that, at the audition, pro­ duced ex plosions of e mbanassed g iggles. I resisted the te mptation to chicken-out and Cut the sequence, and th e solution worked o ut be twe e n us in rehearsal involved Nora "play-act­


ing' the vamp , like a htt le = dre!)s ing up in her big ,i clothes. This seeme d to \\ performance. One of the ke y momen t., play comes in thi s ~ cen e; Rank confe ses hi s lov e and '\ realizes that she can ' t go tim = with her plan. It is the mo m when rea lity first begins to br<! through to her. Oth e r " moment s come in the last, when T rvald a sks her what ,t considers more s acred than he duty as a wife and mother an d replie s, "My duty to my sclr. .. I


believe that beforc anything ehe, I am a human being. " To me !hi i · tb e key to thc whole play. Then again, later in th e act, Torvald says " no-one would sac rifice hi, honour, no! even for love. " ora: "Millions of women have." T hi, came out ficrc er thall I had origi ­ nally visuali zed but it jelled with the way the c haracters were relat ­ ing to eac h other by then . As it was a very int e n s iv ~ rehe arsal period. I broke the pla~ into sec tions so that all the ca~t need not attend eve ry rehearsal. This turned out to be a mistake. a, it meant co ntinuity was difficult to es ta blish and the reh e arsal , took a set-back at the point when we started to lUn whole ac ts. Even in the excellent mode rn version by Christopher I-lampton, there are very diffi c ult passages, both to inte rpre t and to learn. This was particularly tru e for Nora , a nd al so for Torvald in his huge s peeches in Act 3. J think it would have helped both of the m to work in sequence from t he beginning. Also , lik e Shaw, Ibsen prove, practicall y impossible to c ut~ More time could have been spent on re hearsing Nora 's tarant e lla in Act 2: although thcre are refer­ e nces to hcr not dancing it well. i! AmalCllr Stage NUl 'cmber 1'i9 !

The Play Produced

needed more choreography than it got. She was hampered also by not having the proper music till a late ~tage in re hearsals: my fault ,LS [ was hoping for the moon and reluctant to accept anything: else. (See ' Special Pn)blems')

SCENERY, LlGHTIN • AN D COSTUMES. Partly because of cost. but also because of the difficult height of the stage and the fact that we have nowhere to build or store flats. I decided to se t the play in drapes. Rather than Slicking strictly to Ibse n's directions. I eliminated two of the on-stage entrances and creat ed <In U.S.Centre 'Arch', framed in looped up drapes. into a rai sed hall area with exits R. and L. The hasi c require m e nts were for an exit from the playing area to Torvald 's study. a window and an oil-stage front door with a let­ ter box. In our setting this last could not be seen by the audi­ ence: but I decided that this. thou g h it would hav e becn nic e. was not aC'ually essential. The ' window' was indicated sim­ ply with !loor length lace drapes. a velvet pelmet and lighting. A ' practical s tove was made froill a larg e box , wall-papered and marked in tile pattern with flo­ pen; its door opened downstage to mask the interior and orange lighting did the rest. 'Marble ' pil­ lars. two aspidistras and good, solid Victorian furniture complet­ ed the illusion. Comments on the set were univ e rsally favourable.

. It proved a fairly simple show to light. Act I is winter morning light. with thc main so urce the window. Act 2 afternoon fading to dusk with a touch of fireli g ht and a lamp brought on hal f-way through the Act. Act 3 is late­ evening . firelight and lamplight. The hall area had to be we ll lit at all times as a good deal of action took place there, so reality had to be sacrificed a bit in the later stagcs of the play. To help to establish the study we had a light coming on when the non-exi stent door was opened. There are no particular costume problems with this play. We have a large wardrobe and although there was not much of the exact date ( 1879). we converted and adapted succ e ; fully. N ora ' s 'Neapolitan' costume for the last act was put together from bits and pieces of national dre'i$ on the grounds that Victorian funcy ­ dress was never that accurate' (We cut the line about it havinl!: been made specially in Naples). The onl y problem was Dr Rank in Act 3. I felt he should be in fancy dress as Nora refers to his liking for fancy dress balls , but it took time to convince the actor and in the end we had to hire a harlequin outfit which was not ideal . pro­ ducing laughter ill the audience , with whic h he coped magnificent­ ly. The idea was to counterpoint the fact that he was dying with this ironically comic get-up. but it didn ' t quite come off.



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II ...




THE COMEDY CLUB Production: A Doll's House Notes: T=Tables R=Rocking Chair C=Upright Chair A=Annchair W=Workbox on stand [XJ=Piliars

Ammel/I" Swgc NOl'fmiJer 1991

MlJSIC. Apart from the wretched tarantel­ la there is n() music other than distant dance mu sic in the last act. I deliberately steered clear of the Nordic in choosing incidental music as we were playing down the orwegian element. [ chose a very light happy piece from 'Jeux d'enfants ' to open the play. to help establish Nora's happy child­ ishness. Act 2 opencd to a shi very bit from Vivaldi's' Autumn ' and Act J to the doom laden openlllg chords of a Rachmaninov piano sonata. All chosen for mood and effect. rather than time or place.

SPEC IAL EFFECTS AND PROPS. Because we were using a c llrtain set I wanted to establish the sound of doors opening and closing from the word go so that Nora '5 door slam didn ' t come out of thin air. As it is alwa y ~ asier to time these things liv e than with record­ ings our lighting designer (wear­ ing his stage carpenter and inventor's hat) made up a small door frame supplied with a work­ able door, a latch and a bolt. It also included a wooden ' knoc ker' which we used for the flap of the letter box. This was most success­ ful and is obviously going to be of great use in the future. The most complicated prop was the Christmas tree which Nora decorates on stage. I managed to borrow a very reali stic artificial tree, but the decorations proved difficult as most modern ones are too glittery for the nineteenth cen­ tury. However, all the company brought in what they had and we sorted out enough red flowers. chains of gold beads, candles and glass stars to make a show. Other props include a box of fancy dress costumes, and a bag of macaroons! Finding biscuits small enough and thin enough to be eaten while speaking without c ausing the actress playing Nora

to choke took some doing but we succeeded e ve ntually.

SPECIAL PROBLEMS. I.The Tarantella. In the original stage directions there is a piano on stage which Torvald and th e n Dr Rank play for Nora's dance. I dec ided from the start to io without th is, partly because of space limitations . part­ ly becau 'e I thought it would be di s tractin g to the a udience in other scene's . What 1 wanted was to find a mu s ica l hox ve rs ion of the tarantella. but had no slIcces. , so a fortnight before the perfo r­ mance I had to reblock the scene, rearrange the lines and have Rank go (illogically) off into the study and 'play ' from there. The cast co-operated nobly with this upheaval and It worked. just about.

2. Nora's children.

Ibsen gives her three but we cut it

to two. They were older (and big­

ger) than the speci fied ages so we

hanged her eight years of mar­ riage to ten. Ibsen gives the chil­ dren no lines in their scene- just a direction "the children are all talking at once through what fol­ lows" ! He gives Nora 's responses to their chatter and I gave the children the task of writing the ir own script to fit her lines, which they did superbl y. The scene ends with her playing games with them and I had her on her knees centre stage when Krogstad entered, towering over her , (six foot two and on the rostrum 'J Cheap melo­ drama? Maybe. but it worked. All in all. a worthwhile experi­ ence. The company learned a lot and the audiences enjoyed them­ selves, if that's the right word. It was enormously satisfying getting one's teeth into a play of this cali­ bre and nothing like as daunting as we feared at the beginning. To anyonc else thinking of tackling Ibsen I would say, "Go ahead. stick your neck out!"


A Dolls House - November 1991