Monday, May 18, 2009

A Doll's House by Henrik Ibsen, version by Zinnie Harris, Donmar Warehouse, 14 May 2009 – Directed by Kfir Yefet

tend to think it unwise to criticise adaptations simply for diverging from the plot or characterisations of the original. Adapters, directors and auteurs have the right play and re-interpret any play, although they might have to negotiate with the living writers a bit. At the same time I hope I have the right to say that the that an adaptation doesn't quite work without sound too much as if I'm wailing “Why, oh why didn't they just stick to the original plot and setting.”
The changes that Zinnie Harris has made are interesting and topical in a way that could make it feel rather dated in a few years. Helmer is no longer a petty provincial tyrant who has just succeeded to an important position at a bank and Krogstad is no longer a bank clerk, lacking in morals and fearing unemployment. Instead the setting is Britain and Helmer (referred to as John in the play) and Krogstad (now Neil Kelman) are senior politicians, in fact Cabinet Ministers. In this version Helmer has replaced the disgraced Krogstad in the Cabinet and Krogstad is desperate to get back on his feet. The reasons for Krogstad/Kelman's disgrace are never fully stated but they have something to do with dodgy financial transactions.
At first sight this looks like up-to-the-minute topicality looks convenient (as if there were some very late changes) given everything in the news at the moment. However it is worth bearing in mind that as they chose Christopher Eccleston for the Krogstad/Kelman role, they must have already decided to make his role larger and more important. I suspect this was done to bring the other couple's (Krogstad and Mrs Linde) relationship more into the foreground to provide a stronger contrast with the Helmer's.
The social elevation of Krogstad/Kelman is one of the things that gives me a problem with this adaptation. I hope it isn't to do with Christopher Eccleston's accent (which it shouldn't be) but it felt unlikely that his character would ever have been given a Cabinet position – there was just too much intense wayward passion. At first I did think, rather uncharitably, “ah yes an Eccleston performance”.
The other major problem I had with the adaptation is that by making it about Cabinet Ministers (echoing An Ideal Husband a bit) Zinnie Harris raised the stakes and while this didn't make his behaviour any more acceptable, it did make Helmer's fear of disgrace much more understandable. This effect of this was to make Nora's behaviour appear much more reckless.
I have spent far too long on complaints about the adaptation, even if they are justified the proper reviews are unlikely to spend more than a couple of sentences on similar doubts. Because the most important thing about this play is the acting and that is superb. Even with a little first preview stumbling over lines, it was easy to see just how good it is going to get when the ensemble has really come together. It is difficult to pick any one of the main five actors out for special mention but this play is supposed to belong to Nora and Gillian Anderson was certainly in control of that part.



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