Bloody Nora! We have another stripped-down classic from Scandinavia. What’s all this Norse play? Why this particular rebel writer from a chilly, windswept land far, far away? Is it that our Gen Y theatre makers feel Henrik Ibsen’s works, which evoke his homeland of Norway, an insular and remote country in Europe in the nineteenth century, somewhat reflects their feelings about Australia, in the here and now?
I like the look of this production. Marg Horwell’s simple set of white metal frames forms the skeleton of the Helmer’s house. It is a physical metaphor for a marriage. If the frame is strong, it will provide the support for anything that might follow, but if it is weak, no amount of high end finishes is going to hide the flaws. So here we have Nora (Blazey Best) scurrying between rooms, dealing with demanding kids, (Toby Challenor and Indiana Gregg on opening night) and a persistently patronising husband Torvald (Damien Ryan) and it all appears as if it could blow over at any second.
For this latest re think of the 1879 domestic drama, Kit Brookman and Anne-Louise Sarks (who also directs) have relocated to contemporary Sydney. Their script focuses on the main characters and central relationship. We’ve lost Nils Krogstad so bye bye to the blackmail plot. Dr Rank and Christine Linde have also been eliminated. What Brookman and Sarks actually do in a series of brief episodes is invite us to observe the human dynamics of a relationship that is disintegrating. What became apparent to me is this Nora in this environment is role-playing without conviction. Her decision to walk out the door is also the beginning of a quest to find a more honest version of herself.
At interval I was quite excited and looking forward to what Nora might do next. You can imagine my disappointment then to watch it all become about housework. This extension of original play, which sees her turn up on the doorstep of an old work colleague, Helen (Linda Cropper), really hasn’t been thought through well enough.
I can’t fault the performances. Best is excellent. Ryan almost had me feeling sorry for his abandoned spouse. I think Brookman and Sarks had an interesting idea. It is a shame it doesn’t quite get there.
Nora plays at Belvoir until 14 September. Bookings: 02 9699 3444 or www.belvoir.com.au