A DOLL'S HOUSE
Regent Theatre, The Octagon, Dunedin
06/09/2019 - 07/09/2019
Theatre Royal, 78 Rutherford Street, Nelson
10/09/2019 - 10/09/2019
Clarence Street Theatre, Hamilton
14/09/2019 - 14/09/2019
Circa One, Circa Theatre, 1 Taranaki St, Waterfront, Wellington
05/08/2017 - 02/09/2017
Tour-Makers 2019 with Twist Productions
THE HOUSE THAT LIES BUILT
Nora Helmer has it all: a successful and attractive husband, a big house and two charming children. But as Christmas festivities get underway, events from the past return to wreak havoc in paradise. Nora’s life begins to fracture, leaving her trapped inside a web of secrets and lies… Will the truth set her free or is she in too deep?
In the original play, Ibsen controversially exposed the power and gender dynamics of a marriage. This modern take, by celebrated New Zealand writer Emily Perkins, picks up Ibsen’s gauntlet and drops it into present-day New Zealand.
Sophie Hambleton (Katydid, TV’s Westside) commands the stage as Nora. Directed by award-winning Katherine McRae (Cherish, The Enemy of the People), this production will shock and move you.
“Perkins has lobbed a grenade onto the stage and we wait anxiously for it to explode.” – James Wenley, Metro 2015
5 Aug – 2 Sept 2017
Preview 4 Aug
Tues – Thurs 6.30pm
Fri – Sat 8pm
$25 – $52
Q&A/Forum Tuesday 8th August after that night’s performance
CONTEMPORARY KIWI TAKE ON A TENSION-FILLED CLASSIC HEADS ON TOUR
Presented by Tour-Makers with Twist Productions
Touring around Aotearoa for the first time, the award-winning and critically acclaimed A Doll’s House is set to make waves in Dunedin, Nelson, and Hamilton this September. Originally commissioned for Auckland Theatre Company’s 2015 season and last performed in Wellington’s Circa Theatre in 2017, A Doll’s House is a “provocative” “visceral” and “skilful adaptation” of the Henrik Ibsen classic.
“As a classic riddled with universal and timeless moral dilemmas, this A Doll’s House is potently relevant. Not to be missed.” – Theatreview 2017
A Doll’s House plays:
DUNEDIN: Regent Theatre, September 6-7. Book at Ticket Direct
NELSON: Theatre Royal, September 10. Book at Ticket Direct
HAMILTON: Clarence Street Theatre, September 14. Book at Ticketek
Duration: 1 hour, 40 mins (no interval)
For more info visit www.tourmakers.co.nz
Nora Sophie Hambleton
Theo Arthur Meek
Gerry Peter McCauley
Christine Kali Kopae
Aidan Francis Biggs
Bee Sophie Fulton & Jessica Southey
Billy Levi Alexander & Miko Peszynski
Set & Costume Design Ian Harman
Lighting Design Marcus McShane
Composer & Sound Design Pete Edge
Stage Manager Deb McGuire
Technical Operator Tony Black
Set Construction Blair Ryan, Mason Rose, Alan Wilton, Adam Walker, Taylor Jones, John Hodgkins
Pack-in Crew Nic Balkum, David Goldthorpe, Debbie Fish, Jennifer Eccles
Fight Choreography Richard Dey
Publicity & Marketing Debbie Fish - GoldFish Creative
Graphic Design &
Photography Tabitha Arthur - LightShade Productions
Production Photography Paul McLaughlin
House Manager Suzanne Blackburn
Box Office Manager Eleanor Strathern
2019 Tour-Makers season
Starring: Sophie Hambleton, Simon Leary, Kali Kopae, Peter McCauley, Francis Biggs, and Sophie Fulton
1hr 40mins (no interval)
Architecture of Happiness
Review by Nathan Joe 17th Sep 2019
“You must change your life” – Rainer Maria Rilke, The Archaic Torso of Apollo
It’s great to be wrong sometimes.
When I reviewed Emily Perkins’ A Doll’s House (in ATC’s production) the first time around, I found fault with the play and production. It seemed to take place in a nowhere land, despite the New Zealand references. The quality of director Katherine McRae’s production has me gob-smacked at my initial evaluation; it feels deeply rooted in a specific time and place, somewhere recognisably New Zealand. Somewhere recognisably us.
For those unfamiliar, A Doll’s House was originally penned by Norwegian playwright Henrik Ibsen and produced in 1879. Heralded as a proto-feminist masterpiece, it presents the fantasy family unit as anything but. Ibsen shone a light on the cracks of the institution of marriage, painting it as something fragile and on the brink of collapse. What Perkins has done is seamlessly move these troubles into the 21st century home of the modern Kiwi. [More]
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A stunning contemporary interpretation
Review by Cate Prestidge 15th Sep 2019
I am excited to see this production of A Doll’s House which was presented at Circa Theatre in 2017 after first being commissioned and premiered at Auckland Theatre Company in 2015. I am especially keen to see how author Emily Perkins has tackled her first work for stage. Her modern script is, in her own words “only one of a myriad of possible versions of this story”. It explores questions about the way we live, the structures of a family and the house as both a safe and dangerous place.
Director Katherine McRae says that Perkins’ adaptation has given her a way to explore the central themes of domestic power structures, the roles of men and women in society and the needs of the individual versus duty, in a way that is relevant to a modern audience.
Nora and Theo are an environmentally friendly nuclear family living their best life in a house that Theo designed and built, off the grid, on land with goats and water glimpses. A spare, versatile set shows the structure of their home as a work in progress, one with good design features but also precarious, with some elements barely holding, including the necessities of daily life like water.
Sophie Hambleton is completely in command of her role as Nora. She is both bright and dark, real and fantastical, grounded and unhinged. Nora is not just ‘managing life’, she is loving and embracing the challenges of their water-tank, composting toilet and sugar-free life – why they’re in it together aren’t they? With her focus on the children, neighbours, her upcycling and frugal household management, she supports their dream of a debt-free sustainable life.
Theo, re-imagined as a builder with eco-design credentials and clear views on debt and sufficiency, is played with sincerity by Simon Leary. This is a difficult, often unsympathetic role but the challenge of the original play’s chauvinistic language is represented in more subtle ways and McRae’s direction shows Theo locked into his own masculine structures, somewhat trapped by his particular ‘brand’. As Leary said in the Q&A, Theo is aware that ‘any crack in his perfect family, is a scar on his reputation’.
They are supported by actors from the Wellington production. Kali Kopae is terrific, sassy and strong as school friend Christine. Francis Biggs plays old friend Aidan with sensitivity, somewhat lost and carrying complex burdens as well as a power play he struggles to deliver, and veteran actor Peter McCauley is endearing as Gerry, helpful, tetchy neighbour and Nora supporter who sees and hopes for more. Sophie Fulton and Ollie Shallcrass as children Bee and Billy are lovely on stage and are woven into the action realistically.
Hambleton is the heart of the story and performs with great energy and warmth, she is tactile and effervescent and shows Nora as a physical being, her affection for her husband and children palpable. Leary, who I last saw as the gregarious Peter Hudson in Hudson and Halls, is utterly believable in his warmth and in his anger and he and Hambleton hit the strong notes to build the narrative in a way that makes sense of the final scenes.
The set, lighting and production values are all excellent, and the music composed by Peter Edge is beautiful and a strong element establishing and changing mood.
This show leaves me thinking long after the final scenes. I’m not just considering what will happen next for Nora (what does though; can Perkins write a sequel?) but wondering more broadly about power structures in relationships, my friends, my own and the ‘household rules’ I know people operate under in regards to ‘things that are good for us’.
This has been the final night of this short tour of A Doll’s House, but I hope it’s not the last outing for this stunning contemporary interpretation
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Final moments genuinely shocking
Review by Barbara Frame 11th Sep 2019
Emily Perkins’ adaptation of Henrik Ibsen’s 1879 original moves the setting to present-day New Zealand, and the home of builder Theo and his resourceful, impulsive, generous wife Nora.
Like Ibsen’s, the modest home symbolises security, warmth and love, and the stylish set, designed by Ian Harman, complements this idea, suggesting an ecologically sound and solidly built but unfinished construction.
In general, the script follows Ibsen’s intentions, with similar characters, motives and plot intricacies. Perkins’ sensitive, highly skilled writing conveys the economic and social pressures faced by modern families, and the joys, responsibilities and perils of parenting. [More]
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Compelling insights, sultry flourishes, pulsing clarity
Review by Daniel Allan 11th Sep 2019
Set designer Ian Harman’s impressive, rough arch of giant set-squares and ladders greet us at the theatre for this tour-packaged adaptation of the classic Ibsen play. To assess playwright Emily Perkins’ construction is to assess a new original Kiwi classic entirely however, such is the strength of the dialogue and relevance of the setting that she has built into this version of A Doll’s House. It is an absolute pleasure to see something worthy of theatre’s origin as the ‘seeing place’, a mirror to our society, and it’s a source of pride that this epic domestic drama is Kiwi-made, albeit by Scandinavian design.
Nora and Theo are a cute couple with a couple of cute kids. They would totally win The Block. They’ve done it tough, but survived on love and Nora’s sickening thrift, in the big converted barn of a house that Theo has built for them. Now that Theo’s company has landed a big eco village project, everything is coming together. They can drink pinot noir when the kids go to bed, have sex on the kitchen table, and live happily ever after.
Enter the catalyst for tragedy: Nora is harbouring a secret. And the strength of her deception is challenged by an intriguing mix of supporting characters that visit the house during the “Christmas industrial complex,” pouring lashings of pressure onto this thoroughly modern mum.
The whole thing, oozing with cutting insight into the millennial middle class of Aotearoa, is utterly compelling, and only slightly let down by some unevenness of performance and design. Sophie Hambleton, as the central character Nora, enters proceedings like Julie Andrews, all wide eyes and enunciation, despite the intruding presence of a panic motif that injects itself intermittently. Her style jars with the far more grounded Simon Leary, excellent as Theo, and that of the other supporting actors.
As the play progresses, however, Hambleton relaxes into some great one-liners, and in the final throes the heightened emotional content catches up with her more demonstrative style. It is a difficult role, and on balance she carries the play well.
Harman’s metaphorical set may be pretty to look at but it is a pig of a thing to play on. The house area is a big step up, and scenes that are played off it seem diminished. There are unfounded movements of a large table throughout, hardly adding to our understanding of time and place, and the actors trip over stools and steps as they navigate the black outs.
Despite the occasional ungainliness, there is still an admirable level of endeavour and some sultry flourishes from all elements of the production, wrangled by the experienced and imaginative director, Katherine McRae. The lighting design, by Marcus McShane, is magical, evoking sweltering holiday night-times, while the synthy sound design, by composer Pete Edge, adds to the building tension. There are some beautiful touches involving the prop manipulation of the lovely and grounded child actors, Sophie Fulton and Ryder McMeeken.
Francis Biggs, Kali Kopae and Peter McCauley all bring fully immersed character creations to bear in the supporting roles, but in the final analysis it is Hambleton and Leary going hammer and tongs that brings it home.
The final scene is memorably written, performed and staged, unleashing a torrent of misgivings on the familial structures of our society. Nora, for all her hospitality and perfection, twigs that she is a prisoner of her own creation. For “somewhere along the line, being scared got mixed up with being good.” It is a searing observation on duty. And for all the darkness of the play, and the potential disaster inherent in Nora’s final action, there is in fact, a final, bright, pulsing clarity, which is exalting.
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Live theatre at its best
Review by Kate Timms-Dean 07th Sep 2019
The stage is splintered, a blood red cage of rage. A house is discernible in the midst, but shattered, broken laddered and triangulated; at once utilitarian, with sink, shelves and a table on tinsel-covered legss, while still a metaphor for Ibsen’s story. This is a house charading as a home, a house with a hidden curriculum.
Executive producer Drew James and director Katherine McRae preface the performance with their own appearance, providing context for us. This is an interpretation of Ibsen’s original, set in contemporary Aotearoa; the first foray into playwriting from celebrated New Zealand novelist, Emily Perkins. I am eager to see how this adaptation plays out.
Light. Shadows. Voices.
Here is a family: father, mother, daughter, son. Here is love and laughter, kisses and playfulness. But hidden in amongst is the division, the coldness and the fear. Many will recognise the feeling that creeps through the auditorium, that awareness of the dark heart lurking within the breast of their lover. It hovers on the edge of pouncing, before subsiding, suspenseful, cruel.
Nora (Sophie Hambleton) is a child. Pinafore-clad and barefoot, she prances, prattles and preens, skipping through life and smoothing all the wrinkles away. But little tell-tale signs hint at an undercurrent, like stolen sweets and wasted water.
Theo (Simon Leary) is her hero, or so she tells him. He is the rock against which the waves of her life lap, the island in the centre of her stream. But Theo is hard to please and, no matter how she tries, Nora will never be able to maintain this tipple-topple tower of lies she is teetering upon.
As friends and neighbours, Christine (Kali Kopae), Gerry (Peter McCauley) and Aidan (Francis Biggs) enter the scene, her crescendo of deceit builds until it comes thumping, banging, crashing down around them all.
But as Nora’s character is slowly unveiled before us, we see subtle changes as she grows from a child into a woman, until finally she fully owns herself as she writhes and dances, for the pleasure of her audience, the tarantella rendered as hip-hop and R&B.
There is a lot to like about this production of A Doll’s House. The staging and lighting is top notch and the production is slick. The stage design itself is beautiful and really brings the whole story alive. There are so many gorgeous opportunities for shadow, shape and sound to influence the audience experience.
The acting is superb. There is not a foot, not a word out of line. Every single player is a joy to observe, with great characterisation, but special mention to the children, Billy (Dimitri Latton) and Bee (Sophie Fulton), who are fantastically professional. The yawning space of the Regent is challenging on the voice and, at times, the dialogue is a little inaudible but overall, this is live theatre at its best.
The script itself has many plusses. The use of te reo Māori is fantastic and truly represents 21st century Aotearoa. In contrast, the rustic feel, the hint of long grass and paddocks for children to run and play in, is reminiscent of the New Zealand of my own childhood; a memory of the place that used to be known as Godzone. And mention of this changed milieu is also picked at, referencing climate change, global warming and the demise of late modern capitalism.
However, some elements of Ibsen’s original are unresolved and the flow of the story, particular as it reaches its zenith, is choppy as Nora’s desertion impends. I feel myself asking, does this narrative fit? Her ascent feels at once too gradual and then too sudden. But is this just art imitating life? Is this, actually, the point?
I see myself as Nora is some ways. I have been her, living in a house that appears to be a home, but knowing that that dark animal of fear is there, crouching in the corner, waiting for just one word out of step. And I know that at the end, at the demise of these loves, change has not come gradually or with grace. It has come with a sudden, brutal brightness that blots out the dark.
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A clever rewrite of a classic
Review by Ewen Coleman 09th Aug 2017
The crux of Ibsen’s classic play A Doll’s House is at the end when the main character Nora decides to gain her independence and walks out on her family, slamming the front door, never to return.
In Circa Theatre’s production of Emily Perkins’ adaptation of the play, this exit is executed in an amazingly dramatic way and is the culmination of a perfectly honed piece of theatre. Perkins’ modern take on the story giving it a great sense of the here and now. [More]
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Review by John Smythe 06th Aug 2017
Warning: I’m about to give the (well-known) ending away because the play can’t be discussed adequately without doing so. If you don’t know it and don’t want to before you see it, stop here, book your tickets – trust me, it’s a ‘must see’ – and come back to this later.
It was 138 years ago that Henrik Ibsen upset the patriarchal status quo with A Doll’s House, so named because Nora Helmer realises she is being treated like a doll by her husband, Torvald, and she’s treating her children, Bobby and Emmy, likewise. So she leaves them.
When his German agent insisted theatregoers in his fatherland would find the ending unacceptable, Ibsen wrote an alternative ending for the German premiere where the sight of her children collapsed Nora’s resolve to liberate herself, and them, from the ignominy of being treated as less than human. The playwright later described that ending as a disgrace, a “barbaric outrage.” The original was restored and Nora’s slammed door reverberated around the world.
I vividly recall the excitement I shared with my peers when Christopher Hampton’s ‘new version’ of Ibsen’s A Doll’s House (using the translation of Helene Gregoire) hit the big screen in 1973, with Claire Bloom and Anthony Hopkins as Nora and Torvald. Gone was the stuffy language of over-literal translations. Although it remained true to its time and place, it spoke loud and clear to our socio-sexual revolutionary zeal while reminding us we were not the first generation to raise awareness of patriarchal oppression and campaign for equal rights.
Has Wellington really only seen one professional production of this classic? Working with Norwegian translator Halldis Hoaas, Colin McColl directed A Doll’s House for Circa in 1993 with Miranda Harcourt and Peter Hambleton in the leads. Not for him the “gloom, gloom I sit in my room” stagings of Ibsen he recalled from his youth. Laurie Atkinson (the Evening Post critic) described it as “absorbing and sometimes thrilling … With some judicious pruning, some directorial touches of genius, and outstanding performances from his actors, he has made this 114-year-old play as fresh as if it were written yesterday.”
In Emily Perkins’ radically revised and updated version, commissioned and directed by Colin McColl for his Auckland Theatre Company in 2015, the conservative propriety of a late 19th century Norwegian town is replaced with the idealistic imperatives of an alternative ‘off the grid’ lifestyle: an ingenious inversion. Living in mortal fear of a lost reputation is replaced with a mortal fear that human life will not survive what we’ve done to our planet: an ingenious escalation.
In both cases Nora’s focus is on supporting her husband and therefore the wellbeing of her family (a timeless status). To this end she has secretly borrowed from a friend the wherewithal to keep them solvent until he can get further up the proverbial ladder then, when the friend turns foe, forged her husband’s signature in order to raise a bank loan against their house and property.
The morally righteous Torvald, about-to-be-promoted to bank manager, has been replaced with the morally righteous builder, Theo, about to score a lucrative contract to build an eco village. While Torvald’s patronising gentleness and mindless misogyny was suffocating Ibsen’s Nora, Perkins’ Nora, still stuck in a ‘supporter of the master role’, feels even more disempowered by the predicted end of civilisation as we know it – brought about, she ventures tentatively, by “late capitalism … vulture capitalism … Oh don’t mind me, I don’t know what I’m talking about.”*
In this new Circa production, dynamically directed by Katherine McRae, a subterranean boom (sound design by Pete Edge) ensures we know something unknown with inevitably rise to the surface. Ian Harman’s ramshackle set of wooden ladders, saw-horses and planks, lit by Marcus McShane, evokes eco-living in and around a work-in-progress converted barn. This is light-years from the middle-class comforts of the original.
Sophie Hambleton’s roller-coasting Nora keeps rescuing herself from panic attacks by resorting to her repertoire of conditioned feminine behaviours, punctuated with powerful moments of clarity. Her fallibility and vulnerability cannot help but engage our empathy, including with the seething subliminal rage, undefined and untapped for most of the play, that erupts in a stunningly powerful ending.
The complexity of Hambleton’s performance and the fact that the ending heralds the beginning of Nora’s quest for her true self means it takes a while to digest and appreciate the brilliance of her work in honouring the playwright’s honest appraisal of the pressures on young couples trying to surf the swells, swirls and dumpers of uncertainty.
Likewise Arthur Meek’s Theo is forever seeking a surer footing in this insecure landscape. He is understandably focused on the need to live within their means until the new contract – acquired in the first few moments of the play – becomes an income-earning reality. And he too has made a moral misstep in the past which comes back to bite him.
Meanwhile their love for each other is delightfully manifest, as are Nora’s powerful maternal instincts. Indeed the only difficulty is in crediting her ambivalence towards the six year-old twins. While the text accurately acknowledges the very real frustrations of parenting constantly questing and questioning young children, the Bee and Billy we see on stage – played this opening night by Jessica Southey and Levi Alexander – are charmingly accomplishing all they’ve been asked to do.
As the action plays out in an unbroken flow over (the programme informs us) three days, from Christmas Eve until Boxing Day, the interplays between Nora, Theo and their various visitors – two old school friends and a neighbour – are increasingly riveting. The more we get to know about their backstories and intuitively tune into the subtext, the more we are compelled to question, assess and judge everyone’s motives and behaviour. The complexity is dramatically enriching.
Francis Biggs brings a lost and anxious quality, overlaid with attempts to be tough, to Aidan, an out-of-work construction worker who has a hold over Nora and a past with Theo that renders him morally corrupt in Theo’s book.
By contrast the divorced and out-of-work project manager, Christine, maintains her dress-for-success image despite having lost her home to a business deal gone bad. With astute wit and wry humour, Kali Kopae epitomises the type who survives – and probably votes for – the neo-liberal agenda.
Nora and Theo’s neighbour, Gerry – enigmatically played by Peter McCauley – is a globe-trotting, wilderness-loving hunter. He seems like independence personified until his vulnerabilities, and animalistic instinct for dealing with them, are revealed. The fact that he’s rich just sits there, amid everyone else’s straitened circumstances, requiring us to consider how they, or we, might go about asking for help and with what contractual understanding.
There are times when the technical demands of this production’s inexorable forward velocity deny us the chance to dwell on important moments, jolting us instead into an objective awareness of the staging without making a virtue of the metatheatrics. It turns out that the longed-for calm is the proverbial one before the storm.
The final reckoning between Nora and Theo, and Nora and herself, is a dramatic maelstrom where we share their struggle to get a grip on the rights and wrongs of what has been revealed; on who has the right to do what and what the implications are right now and into the future. I’ll say no more – except that it involves another ingenious inversion, this time of the ‘slammed door’ motif.
I could also comment on how serendipitously the political headline issues of last week resonate within this play (bending the financial rules to ensure the wellbeing of others; questioning a woman’s right to power against her perceived responsibilities as a mother) but there will doubtless be more as the season progresses alongside the election campaign.
As a classic riddled with universal and timeless moral dilemmas, this A Doll’s House is potently relevant. Not to be missed.
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*Nora is right, of course, about how ‘vulture capitalism’ has threatened our very survival – and in a post-show speech, primary sponsor Chapman Tripp’s special guest, the prime minister, Rt Hon Bill English, admitted some discomfort in watching the play, He would rather have seen it, he quipped, “in its original Danish [sic] setting” so it would feel remote rather than immediate (missing the point that climate change and global economic crises are, well, global and no-one is remote from them).
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