'A Doll's House' - Review Talk-back


As of today, the new play 'A Doll's House' has garnered 25 online reviews. There are two things the critics seem to agree about: Great performances (of the whole cast or a selected actress/actor, especially Gillian Anderson), but questionable adaptation (with the full spectrum of positive and negative nuances).

While one can argue about the serendipity of the excessive topicality given the recent development in the political circles of Great Britain, other points seem quite artificial.
For example The Guardian remarks that Kelman's (Chris Eccleston) language is inconsistent with the Edwardian period, and many a reviewer quotes one of his utterances to support this claim.

Why not look from the other side? Wouldn't it be ludicrous to say that Zinnie Harris, British, professional, experienced writer, could have been unable to historically anchor the language of her work? That she cannot tell one period from another? It is obvious that this is a deliberate choice, because the text is consistent, doesn't jump from one style to another, and, even more importantly, it's not only in the form, but also in what the characters say: Note what Kelman tells about his life to Nora.

Then, Kelman's character. The Guardian: "[...] I could hardly believe in Kelman as an Edwardian politician [...]" or The British Theatre Guide: "However, his demeanour would make him an unlikely political bigwig in any era, let alone the late Victorian period." First of all, this is not a science fiction scenario. One can rather easily imagine Neil Kelman fighting his way up, elbowing a lot of wrong people in the process, gaining his position, but never - allies, staying an outsider, an upstart.

Eventually he gets corrupted - because of deceased ideals or bowing under the strain of hardships, unhappy family life, unhealthy atmosphere at the top. And his mistake, not really of massive proportions, is immediately utilized to kick him, this hated weasel, out. Enter Thomas Vaughan, well-connected, well-established, probably with multiple generations of politicians behind him.

Discrepancies, also as slight period variations from character to character, can be treated as faults. On the other hand, it's more than just convenient to look at the rewrite as a palimpsest. While one can hear modern words, one looks through the time at the historical set and costumes. And the layers of playing - are these the characters as they see themselves, is it their representation, independent from time and space?

Variety maintains: "But his [Kelman's] D.H. Lawrence manner and language ("I'd still have your husband by the testicles") seem too modern and wildly unlikely for a successful politician." How exactly does 'a successful politician' threaten his rival's wife? And he's not that successful, is he? It's also very important that one only observes the relations between characters while they're 'back-stage', i.e. at home, in private, among acquaintances. And combined with the possible development, described above, Kelman's demeanour is absolutely plausible.

Finally, directly speaking, one can treat such critics' comments as pure racism. It appears that the fight for 'all regions' high culture is not a matter of the times past. This might be an exaggeration, but would Kelman's place in Edwardian times (and actor's in the play) have been questioned to such an extent, if he was played by a black actor?

Of course, there are other points that ring true - for example about a missing step between Kelman's second and third acts' scenes, despite Eccleston's exploring performance, but overall the adaptation is highly original, and it's a pity that some find it difficult to stop comparing it to Ibsen, trying to identify as many weaknesses as possible, instead of listening to the new message it carries.

2 comments:

Tarot said...

Well put and I wish I could see this. Sadly, as usual, I am on the wrong side of the Pond.

Alex said...

Thank you for commenting, Tarot.

Shame. I wish you could see it too.

Sorry for the late answer.