When it comes to Soulpepper’s Nora and Torvald Helmer, I have not seen two more perfectly obnoxious characters come together as a realist couple on stage.
It’s a brilliant relationship, really.
With a classic play so thoroughly studied and well known, it’s easy to get comfortable with playwright Henrik Ibsen’s characters from the 1800s. But director Daniel Brooks doesn’t let us off the hook that easily. He presents the characters we thought we knew as a little more modern, a little braver and a little more vulgar. We don’t quite remember them this way, and that makes their story all the more intriguing.
The set (by Lorenzo Savoini) is dressed like your stylish downtown condo and Nora walks on stage wearing a down-filled, puffy winter coat (we know they didn’t have those in the 1800s). We are immediately estranged and this feeling continues throughout.
For those who have never met the Helmers, let me get you up to date.
Torvald (played by Christopher Morris) is your typical 19th century patronizing jerk, disguised as a sympathetic, bread-winning husband. And Nora (played by Katherine Gauthier) is not the innocent little ‘skylark’ Torvald thinks she is.
At the top of the play, we learn that Torvald gets a promotion at the bank and after having money trouble for years, the couple will finally be in a good position financially. But we are slowly made aware that prior to their current circumstances, there were some desperate times. Nora has a secret. She’s deceptive. And she’ll do anything to keep her husband from finding out the truth. Meanwhile, Torvald treats her like a complete child, scolding her for frivolous things and sitting her on his lap, playing Santa Claus, making me want to puke a little.
Gauthier plays a Nora Helmer meets Regina George version of Ibsen’s disturbed heroine, and man, is it ever entertaining. She paints us a Nora with the external qualities of a narcissistic spoiled brat but the backbone of a strong-willed, intelligent feminist. She walks around the stage cackling and stuffing her face with macaroons and you almost hate her, but there are just too many layers for that to happen.
And Torvald may seem completely self-righteous, but Morris allows us to see the little boy inside of him – the one who got married, had babies, checked off all the boxes he had to in life, but doesn’t know the first thing about being a proper husband, or a grown man.
I often long to see the right contemporary twist added to a classic, and this one in particular hits the spot for me. Though it would be unfair not to mention that this very same twist may be confusing for viewers unfamiliar with the play and its content.
What Brooks achieves with this rendition is a sort of time duality. On the one hand we have Ibsen’s plotline and language which are still very reminiscent of the 1800s, but on the other hand we are bombarded with modern day aesthetics and, to some extent, behaviours that allow us to see a glimpse of our world within the show.
A Doll’s House plays at the Young Centre for the Performing Arts until Aug. 27. For more information, visit soulpepper.ca.