Wednesday 30th October to Saturday 2nd November 1974
“A woman cannot be herself in modern society. It is an exclusively male society, with laws made by men, and with prosecutors and judges who assess female conduct from a male standpoint. A mother in modern society, like certain insects, goes away and dies once she has done her duty by propagating the race”.
Henrik Ibsen in ‘Notes for a Modern Tragedy’ 19 October 1878.
“I am not a member of the Association for Women’s Rights . . . I have never written a play to further a social purpose. I have been more of a poet and less of a social philosopher than most people seem inclined to believe.I thank you for your good wishes, but I must decline the honour of being said to have worked for the Women’s Rights movement. I am not even very sure what Women’s Rights really are”.
Henrik Ibsen addressing the Norwegian Association for Women’s Rights, 26 May 1898.
“There are two kinds of spiritual laws, two kinds of conscience, one for men and one, quite different, for women. They don't understand each other, but in practical life, woman is judged by masculine law, as though she weren't a woman but a man”
Ibsen wrote “A Doll’s House” in the summer of 1879, during his long, self-imposed exile in Italy. As soon as it was published in Copenhagen, it caused a sensation which was to recur time and time again all over the world. “Everywhere”, writes Michael Meyer in an introduction to his translation, “it was triumphant and controversial. Its challenge to the sanctity of marriage and the authority of the husband, and its central concern with the need of the individual to determine his or her own life were explosive themes which resounded far outside theatre walls”.
Ten years were to elapse before the play ‘exploded’,into England, but its history here before it arrived at the Novelty Theatre is rather amusing. An early translation, by one T. Weber, a Danish schoolmaster, contains the following master pieces:
Bernard Shaw claims the first ever performance in England when, on 15 January 1886 a private reading was held ‘on a first floor in a Bloomsbury lodging house. Karl Marx’s youngest daughter played Nora Helmer, and I impersonated Krogstad at her request, with a very vague notion of what it was all about’. But Shaw obviously overlooked the very free translation, given in 1884 entitled ‘Breaking a Butterfly’, in which Nora becomes Flora - Flossie to her husband, Humphrey Goddard - and Dr.Rank is replaced by a character called Ben Birdseye, and which ends conventionally in the words of Harley Granville Barker with ‘every ounce of Ibsen emptied out of it’.
There was also a single, memorable performance on 25 March 1885 at the School of Dramatic Art. The play was entitled “Nora”, and was part of a programme given as ‘An entertaynement by Ye Scribblers inne aide offe that worthie Charitie Ye Society for ye Prevention offe Cruelty to Children!’ All the performers were amateurs, and William Archer, writing in the ‘Dramatic Review’ has this to say:
“It has been proved of old that amateurs rush in where artists fear to tread, but never was there a more audacious case in point than the late performance of Et Dukkheim (A Doll’s House) . . . I have not seen an audience so helplessly bewildered . . . The actors themselves had a glimmering idea of the plot and situations, but even this they failed to convey to the spectators . . . I could not but reflect that the best possible translation of Ibsen’s drama, played by the best available English actors, would have been scarcely less bewildering to an average English audience”.
In fairness to Archer it must, be stated that he did retract this last statement four years later.
Now that controversy and scepticism have long since died away, the play can be recognised as a major foundation stone in the structure of modern realistic drama. And nowadays amateurs can at least rush in where artists no longer fear to tread, hoping, perhaps paradoxically, and as Michael Meyer observes in his absorbing biography of Ibsen, that ‘The unspoken thoughts in the cars and taxis returning from a modern performance of the play cannot vary much from those in the returning carriages of ninety years ago’. For Ibsen’s message is still relevant and universal: “What is really wanted”, he maintained, “is a revolution of the spirit of man”.
|The Cast||played by:|
|Torvald Heimer||David Pike|
|Nora, his wife||Ann Archer|
|Dr. Rank||Hugh Lewis|
|Mrs. Linde||Jane O’sullivan|
|Nils Krogstad||Philip De Grouchy|
|The Nurse (Anne-Marie)||Lilian Gunstone|
|The Maid (Helen)||Carol Pierce|
|The Heimers’ Children||Robert Goosen, Helen Wharam, Victoria Mandeville|
|A Porter||Monty Rose|
|For the Maskers:|
|Assistant Director||Margaret Hayward|
|Stage Manager||Pete White|
|Assisted by||Ken Hann, Steve Lange|
|Wardrobe Mistress||Jo Bartlett|
|Assisted by||Margaret Tabor|
|Business and Publicity||Graham Buchanan|
|Lighting Design||Derek Jones|
|Set Contruction||John Schwiller|
|Dance Adviser||Pamela Silvester|
click on a photo to enlarge it