Published in The Observer February 16, 2020
It’s often said that Nora’s slam of the door as she walks out on her husband and children at the end of A Doll’s House has echoed down the centuries. In Stef Smith’s smart new version of Ibsen’s 1879 play, her story certainly reverberates: Smith reimagines Nora in 1918, in 1968, and in 2018.
The three time periods overlap in her intricately constructed show, three Noras circling each other, while their patronising husbands are played by one actor (Luke Norris switching heroically).
Elizabeth Freestone’s production, set on an almost bare stage with three door frames standing ominously open, is choreographed like clockwork. If the emotional blow is a little dulled by being shared between three stories, they also gain poignancy by their juxtaposition. And the Noras are well-defined: Amaka Okafor has calm, determined grace as the underestimated 1918 Nora; Natalie Klamar flutters in voice and gesture as the nervy, pill-popping 1968 incarnation; while Anna Russell-Martin uses cheerfulness (and booze) to cover her raw desperation as our contemporary.
Nora was first seen at Glasgow’s Citizens theatre, one of a slew of Ibsen rewrites in 2019. While part of me wishes Smith felt able to write a new play rather than torquing her work to fit Ibsen’s tightly constructed plot, she does find creative, persuasive solutions.
The debt that gets Nora in hot water cleverly – and depressingly easily – updates to credit cards and payday loans. Smith generously underlines the pressure that scarcity under capitalism places on the lives of both men and women. And if the final embattled moments feel overwritten – spelling out where they could suggest – there is something satisfying about seeing these three women’s different fates, from the hopeful to the bleak.
• Nora: A Doll’s House is at the Young Vic, London, until 21 March