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Doll’s House review

Joan Davies appreciates another fine performance from the Library Theatre

Published on March 6th 2011.

Doll’s House review

The Library Theatre’s third production at The Lowry, Henrik Ibsen’s classic ‘A Doll’s House’, continues to enhance the company’s reputation as an interpreter of classic drama.

Emma delivers a performance which has the audience supporting Nora, but allowing some room for doubt.

The company’s Artistic Director, Chris Honer, has again brought together a superb team to provide an entertaining and engaging evening of theatre.

The main characters, apparently happily settled husband and wife, Torvald and Nora, are celebrating their good fortune. He has obtained advancement to a senior banking role with a good salary, ‘and bonuses’. Financial security is guaranteed, the three children are happy and healthy, and no ill, it would seem, can befall them as they rejoice in their good fortune.

A doll’s house is a highly desirable toy, for a child. You’re in charge of that small world, decorating to your taste, arranging the furniture and even arranging the inhabitants. They go where you want them to go, sit when you command them to sit, and stay where you’ve placed them until you make them move again. They do nothing while your back is turned and your attentions diverted elsewhere. Real life is different.

Emma Cunniffe as Nora dominates the story and the stage. Nora is the central figure and Doll’s House is often described as the first feminist play. We meet her readying the house for Christmas, Everything is in place for the celebration; husband working in his office, children spic and span with the nanny, and Nora can treat her home like a Doll’s House, overtipping the Christmas Tree delivery boy, admiring her choice in presents, and indulging herself with a few sweet treats while nobody is looking. She seems contended, even pleased with herself.

As soon as her husband enters the room she’s no longer in charge. He claims the right to ‘guide’ her; it’s both his duty and his joy and the couple seem to believe it’s essential. Nora is continually compared to animals, a squirrel, a succession of birds, rather than treated as a competent woman running her own household.

The Christmas card images hide secrets, subterfuges and indiscretions. Nora has secured her husband’s health, and thereby the family’s future, through an act which must remain secret. As the ramifications of her behaviour multiply she faces the terror of losing the respect and love of her husband and possibly even the moral right to rear her children. As her secrets are revealed she develops an understanding of her potential, the restrictions of her marriage, and the cruel limitations of her husband’s regard for his little bird.

Emma Cunniffe conveys the complexity of this character with conviction and verve. Nora is not a blameless character; she can be smug and thoughtless for the feelings of others. She’s a believable woman rather than a glorious heroine; Emma delivers a performance which has the audience supporting Nora, but allowing some room for doubt.

Ken Bradshaw, as Torvald, provides a complementary performance. The opinions of some of Ibsen’s male leads are so at odds with today’s views that it’s easy to find them laughable. Ken Bradshaw largely avoids this and whilst we may dislike his character’s sentiments nevertheless we believe that they are strongly held convictions. There’s strong support from Paul Barnhill as the largely but not entirely unscrupulous Krogstad, Sarah Ball as an old friend Christine and Daniel Brocklebank, the seriously ill Dr Rank always in love with Nora. All three actors portray complex characters, able to change as their life circumstances allow or dictate.

Judith Croft’s design echoes the supposed strength of the family and the use of Gary Yershon’s music enhances the increasing pressures which force Nora towards despair and challenge. The children, in a brief appearance, are delightful.

Ibsen’s dramas caused shocked reactions when they first appeared. A Doll’s House was published in 1879, but the views expressed about the role of women are much more acceptable today. There is still plenty to think about and a modern audience, spending little time being shocked that a woman should have opinions, has time to fully appreciate the detailed imagery and intriguing, echoing symbolism both written into the play and designed for this production.

In the spring of 2014 The Library Theatre should move into a new permanent home, shared with Cornerhouse and located in between Oxford Road and Deansgate Stations. In the meantime the company brings its high standards to The Lowry, and soon to other, non-theatre, locations in the city centre.

A Doll’s House is a production of The Library Theatre Company and is performed at The Quays Theatre, The Lowry until Saturday 12th March

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user96821March 13th 2011.

I saw this on Friday 11th March. Whilst I enjoyed the themes explored, I left feeling flat and a little confused.
Struggled to identify with the characters but some great moments from the whole cast.

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