A Doll’s House: Reviewed

I was hugely excited to have the chance to see this production of ‘A Doll’s House’ by Henrik Ibsen, as I have vivid memories of reading this play when I was fourteen in a National 5 English class (the Scottish GCSE equivalent, for anyone who is unfamiliar), and finding it a refreshing change to the never-ending deluge of Shakespeare that had been shoved down our throats up until that point. In all seriousness though, I remember being struck by the play’s powerful message of female empowerment that was ahead of its time, given that it was published in the late nineteenth century. 

The crux of the plot revolves around Nora Helmer’s realisation that she has been controlled her entire life, first by her father and then by her husband, Torvald. In order to pay for a trip to Italy to save her sick husband’s life, Nora borrowed money from Krogstad, a man of ill-repute, after forging her father’s signature. Initially, Nora is not troubled by her dishonesty; she and her husband are comfortable financially, and she is content with her role as an attentive housewife. But when Torvald becomes aware of her fraud, she is forced to re-evaluate her marriage. 

Given that the majority of the action is situated in the Helmers’ living room, the small and intimate setting of the Barron was perfect for this production. Director Charles Vivian and producer Alice Rickless did a great job in casting, as every actor shone in their role, and costumer Alex Rive excelled at dressing the cast in period outfits. With stripped-back tech and a fixed set throughout, the onus was really on the actors to deliver the show. They achieved that with flying colours. 

Fiona McNevin’s Nora was impressive. She fulfilled the difficult task of portraying Nora’s multifarious character traits: simple-minded and content with the boundaries society has imposed on her at the beginning, emotional and overwhelmed by her predicament during the bulk of the play, and resolute in her decision to walk out of the family home by the end. Sam Gray was superlative as Torvald; he exuded self-righteousness and arrogance throughout, and both he and McNevin had marvelous on-stage intensity which came to the fore during their high-octane exchanges in the closing scenes. Fran Ash was similarly exemplary as Nora’s compassionate yet level-headed confidant, Mrs Linde; Issy Cory was suitably attentive and caring as the maid Anne-Marie; and Liam Smith captured the menacing nature of Krogstad. Sebastian Durfee’s energy and enthusiasm as Dr. Rank provided a nice contrast to the heavier, more serious scenes, and McNevin’s panicked facial expressions while dancing the Tarantella made me and many other audience members chuckle. Another highlight was the door slam sound effect that punctuated Nora’s exit at the end as it heightened the drama in a way that I very much appreciated. On the whole, it should be said that the performance was seamless. Opening night nerves? Not a chance. 

As a reviewer, one often feels that one’s duty is to find some fault with the show, even if it is minuscule, but I genuinely cannot pinpoint any one thing that stood out as a detractor from the overall performance. Perhaps you could say the interpretation of the text was somewhat predictable – there was nothing totally unexpected, no unusual twists or reinventions. But that’s what made it so enjoyable. It would have been unnecessary to tweak this classic text; the real challenge was to execute the script’s nuances and make the characters and their relationships feel natural. The magic of this play is that Nora’s struggle is still as relatable as ever, and Vivian’s directorial vision emphasised this central concern excellently. The cast and crew should be immensely proud of their efforts – it was Mermaids’ last show of the decade, and they could not have gone out on more of a high! 

Five Owlies

Orphée and Eurydice: Reviewed

Although I am admittedly not a die-hard opera fanatic, I was intrigued by the opportunity to see OpSoc’s unique take on the classic tale of Orphée and Eurydice, which used an excellent new translation by students from Professor Julia Prest’s “Translating French Opera” module. The plot is fairly straightforward: the grief-stricken Orphée journeys to the underworld to rescue her dead lover, Eurydice. Orphée must lead Eurydice back to the land of living without looking back at her—or she will be lost to her forever. 

Director Amy Addinall gave the opera a modern twist using a contemporary army setting, and by casting Orphée as female (Tabitha Benton-Evans). In the world of theatrical productions, reinvention treads a fine line—get carried away and it overshadows the story, don’t go far enough and creative changes lack purpose. On this occasion though, the adaptations only enhanced the opera and were cleverly incorporated through details such as camouflage army attire, military-style trench coats, and a gunshot to punctuate Eurydice’s death.

This allowed the indisputable main strength of this show to shine: the impressive vocal performances of Benton-Evans as Orphée, Millie Haldane as Eurydice, and Catriona Kadirkamanathan as Cupid. Benton-Evans was barely off-stage for the majority of the production, and she mastered the large repertoire of her role with poise and assurance. The chemistry between her Orphée and Haldane’s Eurydice was magnificent, and the comedic moments when Eurydice was exasperated by Orphée’s refusal to look at her were well executed. Especially impressive were the segments where Benton-Evans and Haldane were singing in harmony with impeccable tuning and clarity of diction, something which is very challenging and should be commended. Both Haldane and Kadirkamanathan dealt with tricky high soprano melodies with ease and captured the essence of their characters in their performances. Singing prowess was not confined to those in the lead roles—the chorus stayed in tune throughout and their vocal projection was admirable, especially given the absence of microphones. The band were also brilliant and there were few, if any, missteps in their playing. It was clear the band and the company had rehearsed together extensively beforehand, as they were beautifully in sync, a feat which can be attributed to musical director Fanny Empacher.

However, the first half did seem to plod along lethargically after the emotive opening number, and I did struggle to remain engaged—though that was probably largely due to the music being appropriately sombre after Eurydice’s death. This could have been offset with more interesting blocking, or some lighting or set changes, although I respect that it is in the character of operatic productions to refrain from extravagant tech or choreography. Given the simplistic blocking, the chorus needed to bring a high level of energy and make full use of facial expressions to convey the emotion behind the lyrics they were singing, and unfortunately this was missing at certain points. Similarly, there was a particularly noticeable disparity between those who fully committed to the portrayal of the menacing figures from the underworld and those who did not, which did detract somewhat from the drama of Orphée’s quest.

Nevertheless, given that this show was put together in the space of three weeks, and probably on a very tight budget, this was a truly exceptional effort from all involved, and the end result showcased the talents of the cast. Will I see another opera again in the near future? Maybe not; but seeing a well put-together production such as this one is always an absolute pleasure.

4/5 Owlies