'A Doll's House' - Guest Review

2009-08-02 Review of 'A Doll's House' by Hedgehog

Here we go, a somewhat belated review. I’m sorry it took me so long, work kept me.^^

Thanks to a little nudge from our Alex and a sudden "Why the hell not?!"-flash of attitude I found myself boarding a plane with a true masterpiece of a 'plan' (coughs) in my head that can easily be summed up as "Let's get there and see if anything goes if you're really willing to go quite a distance". Back-up plan: London's always worth a visit. And I hadn't been there since 1997 and had been missing this city in a strange way.

To say this trip as a whole has been full of adventures, new insights and ideas and massively re-energizing my depleted batteries would be an understatement. And it was made perfect by how easy it was indeed to get a ticket. I even think I'll stick to doing it the way I did in the future – compared to the experience of queuing, meeting nice and interesting people, bantering with passers-by and cobblestone setters, pre-ordering tickets does seem just boring.

I had read the original play by Ibsen a couple of days before, on the train going home from night shift, so I'd had a bit of comparison. Perhaps to start with that comparison is a good idea (I said it once in the old forum, I'll happily say it again here: I suck at writing reviews, as you are about to see for yourself, hehe.) So here we go.

Basically, what Zinnie Harris has done (imho) is to bring the original play into focus in a way. When I read Ibsen I found there were some parts, especially when there was background explanation on the loaning business, or the 'what happened before'-parts, that were a bit long-ish to read, and thus felt 'blurred'. Harris has managed to reduce said parts to sharp and poignant bare necessities. Something similar happened to the characters, although here the fact the play had been on for some time might factor in as well – see also Alex's second review.

I can best describe what I felt about the characters by using an image: We've got this big cathedral where I'm from, and there are constantly stonemasons at work restoring parts of it – basically they've been doing so since it was built. I used to pass by and get a glimpse of what they were doing, and I remember those old stone figures, contours softened by time and acid rain, standing next to their freshly chiselled newer copies. Similar to this image, the Donmar characters seemed more focused, more sharply carved out as compared to Ibsen's – at least in my perception.

I can't really comment on the changes in language – frankly spoken, it's both English to me. ;-) I'd have to get a script of the Donmar play for a more thorough analysis. Just one thought on those lines of Kelman that didn't go well with some of the critics; to me, they were perfectly fitting. If he's supposed to be a so-called upstart, then of course it's only natural he'd revert to plain language in a situation where he's so being driven into a corner, innit?

It fits right into what I think about those sharpened-out characters, making Kelman seem more like a three dimensional human and less like an artificial character. I only have a general knowledge of literature, but it just wasn't done that way in Ibsen's time – actually writing characters with an accent, or colloquial speech, was it? From what I remember having read at school, even if there was a character that was supposed to be a simple man they always spoke as flawless as those characters of supposedly higher education. Perhaps, if he'd live today, he'd have done it differently himself. Right, I'm starting to drift, so back on topic!

To wrap up this short comparison between original and adaptation, all in all I'd be hard-pressed to find a change I didn't feel to be an improvement or at the very least I found nothing I couldn't live with. It all makes sense in a slightly new way, and yet the original core-content of the play is perfectly preserved. Come to think of it, and if only to say it right in the faces of those critics who have a problem with the adaptation: The generic message, Ibsen's genius and insight, stays perfectly preserved. (I wonder if it was for the likes of such critics would we still be waiting for a lucky coincidence during a thunderstorm to get our meals cooked? Sorry, turning off *snarky-mode* now…)

The biggest change in my opinion, and as far as I'm concerned the only one that really changed something is the position from which Kelman starts off as compared to Krogstad's original point. The latter one still sees a chance to prevent bad things from happening to him, blackmailing Nora to keep his post. The former, however, has already been confronted with his career having been smashed to pieces. Or, to put it differently, Krogstad is threatened with a disaster about to happen for him (pretty much like Nora, should he carry out his threat and tell her husband about the loan), Kelman however has already arrived in the middle of the disaster, and can do nothing but fight to keep from drowning completely.

A thought that just occurred to me when writing this last paragraph – it changes the character, so logically, he has a different name. Following that line of thought – while Nora and Rank kept their names, they also are the characters that stay close to Ibsen's original version. Mrs. Linde has definitely changed, too, and has been consequently renamed to Lyle. And what about Torvald/Thomas? My original comment, typically simple-minded as I am, was "Torvald is boring, Thomas at least has now become a more real character". In truth, I just have a strong aversion to that kind of man, so my subconsciousness probably simply opted to ignore Torvald but couldn't escape Thomas.

About the change from Krogstad to Kelman, I believe it helps to make his three-and-a-bit appearances less staccato-like, although I can't help but wonder how it would've looked if they'd gone the opposite way… Krogstad, not being knee-deep in shit from the very beginning, does start out somewhat darker and more villainous than Kelman. It's easier to condemn Krogstad for using the dishonourable means of blackmail seemingly just to keep a position than Kelman, who makes very clear from the start he's at least doing so for a good cause, caring for his kids.

However, considering the short time of the play this opposite way might have been over the edge, sort of. What doesn't change is him being both a main catalyst to the whole story as well as going through a development of his own. And on the so said to be sharp and sudden end of Kelman's story, that much I have to say, even if I promised myself not to go there – that's how it happens in real life. Trust me, I've been there. I applaud Ibsen for knowing this, and also for his insight about 'absolute certainty'. 'nuff said.

As for the acting, I seem to be in accordance with the general consensus (for once in my life, eh) – absolutely brilliant. If you're interested I'll elaborate on the single characters, but for the sake of keeping this review within something at least remotely resembling boundaries I shall restrain myself here.

When I re-met with some of the people I'd met earlier in the queue during the break, I think the most eloquent opinion they got from me was "wow"… and frankly I'm still having trouble getting beyond that. No matter which language I'm trying to put it in. My brain knows I can't talk with Mach-1-speed, and neither can I type fast enough to keep up with my thoughts. I still wish I'd have had an extra pair of eyes and ears, though. Taking it all in what happens on the stage, what happens with the audience (and I really enjoyed that experience), it's different in a place such as the Donmar, where everything is a bit more cuddly than my usual row-25-need-looking-glass-and-hearing-aid-seat.

So, there's a play I can relate to personally in so many ways (but a review isn't the place to go there), there's a stellar performance by the cast – what more could you possibly ask for? I say it once again, Alex, thanks for your encouragement – I went, I saw and I came back with sensory perception overflow and a bag full of thoughts, a bit (or more) wiser and richer than I was before.

*tongue in cheek* So: "Wow", to sum it up.


Alex said...

Hedgehog, thank you for the great review. Apologies for taking liberties whilst converting from the original comments. Hope it's alright. Glad you had a nice time in the city. =)

Hedgehog said...

In fact I feel extremely honoured to have made it to a "guest review" *smiles* It was the logic thing to do, I presume, with it sort of breaking the boundaries of allowed comment length - and who am I to argue with... erm, logic? (allright, usually the first in line, but this time I'm just very happy ;-))

Alex said...

If you're happy, I'm happy =)
I had _intentions_ when you said you'd write a review, but didn't want to pressurize you. *lopsided grin*

"all in all, all things considered - fantastic"