james debate
james debate

Sunday, 28 June 2009

Directed by Kfir Yefet
Written by Henrik Ibsen, Zinnie Harris
Starring Gillian Anderson, Chrstopher Eccleston, Tara Fitzgerald, Anton Lesser
Production company The Donmar
Theatre The Donmar Warehouse

So it was that I returned to the Donmar Warehouse for the latest in this season of productions. This time the star of the day is the underrated Gillian Anderson, best known for playing the straight-man (or woman) in camp, yet undeniably awesome, sci-fi tv show the X-Files. As I had already seen Anderson on the stage I was well aware that she is a very talented actress, which is not something I would have expected to be honest, and I was very much looking forward to a new Donmar production, one that hopefully bounced back to greatness after a few so so productions.

donmar doll's house gillian anderson

This time the production is A Doll's House, one of Ibsen's great plays, about a woman, wife of a man in a prestigious and pressure filled job, who ends up just being a decoration in his life to boos this reputation.

Here it has been rewritten and adapted to 1909 London. I'm always skeptical when watching a classic play that someone has seen fit to rewrite. It's clear why It's been done in this case. This new version places the protagonist's husband in the more pressure filled world of politics, and the blackmailer is now a disgruntled politician fighting for his career; all of this serves to ramp up the emotional stakes and accentuates the sense of female oppression, though one might ask whether it was really necessary.

In the end it comes off feeling a bit of a melodrama. The plot also seems a bit implausible in this political setting, it's hard to see what the antagonist could possibly hope to achieve after what he's done. However possibly the biggest issue is that the whole thrust of the play, the independence of women, has far less poignancy in 1909 than it does in the original time period.

However, unwise scripting aside I did rather like this production. The stellar cast were all on form, with Anderson's excellent starring role marred only by a slightly overdone British accent, though to her credit it's far better than most American actors. Toby Stephens is spot on in his role as the husband, and Ecclestone does the best he can with a character that strains somewhat for credibility. However, particular note must go to Anton Lesser who was pitch perfect in every single scene.

The direction and pacing was ably done and made the evening fly right by, to the extent that the play seemed far shorter than it actually was. Ultimately it all forms a very satisfying package, which may be heavily diluted Ibsen, but it's still Ibsen. This is a fine production with a questionable script, and a return to good form for the Donmar.

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