Brighton Fringe seems to be going through an interesting trend at the moment giving characters from well known plays a voice, so they can finally have their say. This time, a new adaptation of Henrik Ibsen's classic A Doll's House comes to the Rotunda from Lavender No 9 in a lovely re-imagining by Stef Smith called Nora: A Doll's House. This time, we get to see three versions of suppressed housewife Nora in three different eras - 1918, 1968 and 2018. The same storyline is played out respectively, but the feelings from each version of Nora have a unique emotional journey, with a very different outcome based on choices made determined by the times they live in.
Powerful performances from the four women portrayed.
Nora is an interesting character of Ibsen's, as she seems to be the one who on the surface is the stay at home mother, who has a positive outlook despite her silence when needed. Smith takes that silence and gives it the platform it needs to vocalize and physicalize Nora's suppression of her desires and needs and the fact she bends over backwards to make sure her family survives after her husband Thomas falls sick. In secret, she takes out a loan under her dying father's name and pays off the debt. But can she keep hold of that secret forever in a world led by men?
The writing is reminiscent of Ibsen himself and has an element of modern musical Standing At The Sky's Edge (recently at The National in London) with the three different eras portrayed. Plus, the direction of Ella Green and Celia Helier is detailed, getting powerful performances from the four women portrayed. However, sadly the men let this piece down in terms of character journey, quiet vocal volume and an obvious line cock up that is clumsily rectified. It at times also seems one-sided with not enough grounding in the characters to really give the women something solid to react to. Despite this, Abraham Popoola (Daniel) and Etienne Ferenc (Nathan) show great promise as the show progresses amd they settle more into their characters. Ferenc becomes more confident as Nathan blackmails Nora through finding out her secret, whilst Popoola handles his own mental journey well as he discovers living through a life threatening illness. As for Ardi Sefre (Thomas), there are moments when he lets himself go in moments of condescending behaviour toward Nora, but if he trusts himself more, then a stronger performance will shine through.
As for the women, they are the true strength at the heart of Nora: A Doll's House. All three Noras (played brilliantly by Annabel Hoskins, Chiara North and Alisha Conley) convey Nora's inner torment with such delicacy and passion that they bring totally different aspects to this overlooked character that we have never thought about before. Add to that Holly Hinchcliffe's vibrant and free spirited Christine to bring Nora out of her comfort zone and you have a quartet of women who have a great connection with each other. These four in themselves drive the play and are actresses to watch for in the future.