TAT Deputy Sydney Theatre Editor Fiona Hart reviews Nora.
Boldly naming their play after Ibsen’s tragic heroine in A Doll’s House, Kit Brookman and Anne-Louise Sarks set out to explore the character of Nora from a modern perspective.
The start seems promising. An interesting set gives us full view into the family dynamics, and the glow from Torvald’s iPad immediately confirms that we are in the present day. A few subtle changes in the narrative seem perfectly acceptable – two children instead of three, the elder of whom is a girl, plus no appearance from any of the secondary characters from Ibsen’s script, mean we are free to focus on Nora in her role as wife and mother – which, after all, is the role that seems to cause her all of her distress.
But instead of really uncovering the root of her unhappiness, this production leaves both my companion and me even more puzzled as to what is actually the matter. Not only does Belvoir’s Nora engage much more with her children than Ibsen’s does and even does so when she is under a cloud of depression, but the constant fear of her fraud being discovered is barely present. And we are quite bemused by Nora’s request for a nanny to help in the afternoons when at the beginning the script makes it quite clear her children are both at school.
All this can be overlooked however when we come to the second half, and the stage is graced by Linda Cropper. Playing Nora’s confused but gracious hostess on her first night away from Torvald, Cropper’s acting is sublime: her telephone conversation is timed so impeccably we truly believe there is someone on the other end of the line; her facial reactions are highly expressive but small enough to be perfectly authentic; and even when she is awkwardly placed with her back to the audience we are still drawn more to Cropper voice than to Blazey Best’s (Nora’s) angst-ridden visage. Indeed, as the two women gently poke around each other’s problems it is as though Sarks herself is more interested this new character, allowing a story to slowly unfold which takes the focus away from Nora for a while. And while it is a fascinating and engaging aside, unfortunately it does little to help us learn more about the woman after whom this play is named.
So see this play for Linda Cropper. See this play for the set. Or even see this play to recognise a modern-day Torvald – a well-defined twenty-first century version of a hard-working family man who clearly cares about his family but is a poor communicator. The play might be called ‘Nora’, but in this production she is, once again, merely a figurine.
Nora is playing at the Belvoir until 14 September.