11 August 2011

A Doll's House at the Arcola Theatre

My Summer holiday in Norway was book-ended by two Norwegian plays.

The first was close to home at the Orange Tree in Richmond but the second, Ibsen's A Doll's House, required a trek to the Arcola Theatre in Dalston. Luckily the London Overground goes directly from Richmond to Dalston so the Arcola is in reasonable reach.

This was my second time at the Arcola, and in Dalston for that matter, and the second trip was made because of the success of the first.

It was the same theatre but a different studio. For Uncle Vanya I was in the main studio but A Doll's House was staged in the smaller Studio 2.

This was very like the familiar Orange Tree except that the seating is only on two side and there are more rows overall. The Arcola has an intimate feel as a result which was enhanced by being in the front row (as usual).

The surprises started immediately as several of the cast were already in position but motionless, waiting for us to be ready. Once we were (and that took a little time as the show was sold out and some squeezing had to be done to get everybody on to the benches) the lights dimmed and the actors stirred.

What followed was enchanting and engaging.

The play is what it is. The story is simple but strong and believable. What matters then is what the cast and crew make of it.

I liked the simple presentation with the almost bare stage acting as the main room of the house and the study to one side but clearly visible.

The scant props were used sparingly. The jumble of decorations in the room seemed to have no meaning but they certainly added to the charm of the evening.

I thought that all the acting was fine. I found all the roles convincing and that is the main thing. I could have thumped the husband for his outdated bigotry but that was not the actor's fault, he was merely playing the role of a bigot in an old play.

The unusual feature of the performance was the addition of three ghost-like women who, in addition to playing occasional roles like maids, hover around the wife (the doll) exaggerating the emotion of the situation on their faces.

A simple effect that works well; the sense of impeding doom is stronger if you can see somebody who looks truly doomed.

Overall the production came across as clever but clever for all the right reasons, not just clever for clever's sake - a mistake that some productions that I have seen recently have skirted close to.

If you have a good story a good production and some fine acting then you've got a good show and a good evening out. And A Doll's House was definitely that. Most satisfying.


  1. This is one of my favourite plays. I managed to catch it a couple years ago at The Rose in Kingston and it was as wonderful as ever!

  2. The Rose is walking distance for me yet I did not go to see it there; instead I went to Dalston :-\


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