'A Doll's House' - One Month Later - Review

2009-06-29 We don't lie down easily either, so here are some further thoughts on 'A Doll's House' and Chris Eccleston's Kelman.

Seeing the play a bit more than a month into its run was almost a completely new experience. The play lost its fragility and acquired three-dimensional presence, homogeneity and rhythm. The actors allowed themselves from time to time to move their characters off the beaten path, in other words, the play that has been taking its first steps when I saw it in the beginning, has truly come alive.

There have been made some changes about Kelman's costume. First of all, he no longer wears the coat in the first act. Probably it gives him further mobility, but it also neutralises the effect of his appearance, especially the very first gloomy one. It can though also be seen as introducing the character further in its arc, i.e. now completely leaving his strength or composure behind, and offering an extremely flimsy base for the menacing act he puts up for Nora later.

(I already had the thought before, and it was strengthened by this change, that Kelman was about to go Jude's way. Yes, he lives just round the corner, but he's the only one walking around inappropriately dressed for winter, not to speak about his third scene.)

Another addition to costume is that he wears braces hanging down skinhead-like in that third scene. This final touch completes his image as a savage to such a degree that one cannot even begin questioning his language - he's so gone, it's not worth trying to find a politician in him; it's a fight to stay a sane human being that's foremost. And the contrasting arguments, what he tells - or spits out - about his life, ambitions, family, it's not sentimentality, it's just crude words of mass-produced obituary.

All this doesn't make him seem out of place, on the contrary, it lends him credibility. One can see how this determined man was knocked down by the sudden terrible shift of events. To call Kelman one-dimensional would mean ignoring all his plight and treating him as a common thug. And that's the last thing he is, even if he's not totally straight. He is indeed a man drowning, as Christine explains, also: 'He makes things worse for himself, he's like a snake in a trap, thrashing around.'

It should be noted, Eccleston variates how he plays each night, perhaps most of all actors. It's not just the usual modifying of intonation, stress, cadence, but also the whole physical presence, his position on stage - the only moments where it's locked is when he directly interacts with others. Speaking of interaction, his tussle with Nora has become much more violent, where it's more of a norm than an accident that both end up on the floor (not just kneeling as before). What's unchanging, is his smiles that are beyond unnerving. No need to wield a bicycle chain.

And this leaves us with the quiet fourth scene. Here it's not the changes in the performance - which are much slighter too, - but my deeper understanding of the play having seen it more than once or twice, having read the playtext, that made it different. For one, it's how Christine is constantly established as the rescuer of the dispossessed through all her appearances, that she is in a stage of her life where she tries to rebuild herself, and - live. Then, Kelman is obviously completely alone. There's his typist, who helps him, but in no way is in a position to do more than warn him. And that's it. Everyone else is queueing to dance on his grave.

Seen in this light, the conclusion is much less sudden. And for London Evening Standard reviewer who wondered how come Christine couldn't find Neil before, the play offers some clues: Kelman has changed his name; Christine is just emerging from the ruins of her past - it was her who had left him; she survived unloved husband, started shaping her life anew. If her and Neil's paths hadn't crossed at this point, she might have sought him out once she had achieved stability - she's a strong and proud woman who kept her heart.

To conclude, I must say I'm impressed with the play's development, and while I'm still not ready to call it perfect, it's gained strength, and where it's been occasionally treading lightly, it has now fully established itself. I'm especially glad to have witnessed one particular evening, which, banally speaking, was an example of theatre magic. It was easy flowing, things clicked into their places seemingly effortlessly, actors looked laid-back and enjoying it as much as the audience, and that was also when Eccleston provided one of his extra-inspired performances.

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You can find other 'A Doll's House' related posts via this directory.


Tarot said...

I really wish I could have seen this at least once. By the time I had info it was happening I also got word it was sold out online and being as I'm on the wrong side of the Pond (as usual) there went my options :(

Alex said...

Shame that so many people gave up their hopes because the show sold out early on. In reality it's very easy to get in, it's even possible to get tickets in advance if queueing isn't an attractive option.

Of course, if only it was that easy to jump from one side of the pond to the other, though, making everything work.