A visit to A Doll’s House Part 2 prompts a question – why can’t we leave Nora alone? Lucas Hnath’s play at the Donmar Warehouse is just the latest in a long line of spinoffs based on Ibsen’s quintessential feminist text.
The original A Doll’s House famously ends with Nora leaving her husband, Torvald, and, more controversially, their two children. It is an ending that has been fiercely debated and occasionally upended, with Hnath certainly not being the first to ask – what if Nora came back?
The set, designed by Rae Smith, feels claustrophobic, the in-the-round stage is entirely subsumed by a large charcoal-coloured house. As Nora, played by the exceptional Noma Dumezweni, makes her entrance, the house is raised to reveal a sparse staging, punctuated by the occasional Victorian ornament. June Watson as Anne-Marie, the housekeeper, sits patiently waiting for her arrival. The play begins much as it ends, with a whole lot of talking.
Set in 1894, fifteen years after Nora left, Hnath’s device for her return is that she has learned that Torvald – Brían Francis O’Byrne, a brilliant match for Dumezweni – has not filed for divorce. They are legally still married. This truth affects everything, from Nora’s own freedom to their daughter Emmy’s upcoming marriage. Set apart from everyone else by her late-century, black and emerald costume, Dumezweni possesses the controlled ferocity of a woman accustomed to protecting herself.
The most interesting parts of the play revolve around Nora’s relationship with her daughter. Patricia Allison delivers a sharp but collected performance as Emmy, in which the clash between second and third wave feminism is instantly recognisable. Arguing over Emmy’s insistence on marriage, Nora pleads that she ‘will be swallowed up into him’.
Recognisably modern in its dialogue, director James Macdonald has done well to maintain the 19th century feel. Dumezweni and Allison’s carefully constructed similarities and differences work off their natural chemistry, and both shine superbly.
My main qualm about this production is of course the question ‘why was this written by another bloke’, which unfortunately looms over the entire play. It is unable to transcend being a thought experiment. No matter how interesting the ideas, how witty the dialogue, how brilliant the performances, it can’t seem to escape the truth of its own production. That being said, Nora’s defiant slam of the door continues to stir, even after 140 years.