Drama in a Doll’s House on tour in Norfolk and Suffolk

Cathy Gill and Darren France in The Doll's House by Open Space Theatre Company.

Cathy Gill and Darren France in The Doll's House by Open Space Theatre Company. - Credit: Archant

The Doll's House remains a potent piece of drama. DAVID HENSHALL spoke to actress Cathy Gill about the challenges playing Ibsen's heroine Nora.

Nora, the protagonist of Henrik Ibsen's play A Doll's House is a part actresses love to play and Cathy Gill is delighted to slip into the gutsy Norwegian's brave shoes for Open Space Theatre's six-venue tour Norfolk and Suffolk. Nora, she says, is an 1879 example of the modern women.

She's a ground-breaking character, one of the very first feminists, who has a remarkable revelation after three traumatic days at Christmas and comes to a decision that was hugely controversial with the theatre-going public at the time.

'She's amazing, very complex, so full of detail and she has a rollercoaster of emotions throughout the play. I think she's extraordinary and has paved the way for all the women who come after her, to be honest.'

Nora is the wife of Torvald who has just been made manager of his bank, a promotion that will ease the financial strains on their family, an anxiety she has added to with the best of intentions. When her husband was very ill, she raised the money to take Torvald on a recuperative holiday to Italy which may well have saved his life, and she told everybody that she had got the money from her father.

This was not true. She has secretly arranged the loan through Krogstad, an employee at Torvald's bank and, in order to do so, has forged the signature of her father who is now dead. She has been secretly paying it back but now Krogstad is blackmailing her into saving his job. If she will not help he will tell Torvald about the debt.

It gives the story a will-he tell or won't-he thriller edge. 'You are waiting with Nora in suspense about the Krogstad letter to Tovald telling all and it's happening over Christmas when she's trying to be happy, decorating the tree and celebrating Torvald's promotion, Then comes this crisis at what is meant to be the happiest time of the year.'

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Janet McTeer when she played Nora said she found it difficult to see Torvald's pretty little skylark suddenly turning into Emily Pankhurst and saw the story mainly as the break-up of a marriage. Gill agrees that is partly true, but is sticking to her feminist guns.

'From the beginning, Nora has this irrepressible spirit. She's a little bit naughty. Torvald has a strong moral code and lays down rules for her to follow – such as not eating macaroons - and she bends the rules all the time. She allows herself to be repressed by Torvald because that's what society expects. And what happens to her in the end is a complete shock because nobody has ever done that before.

'To leave your husband and children was a hugely drastic thing to do, but it's in her right from the start. Both her husband and her father had treated her as a possession, a doll, and suddenly this terrible catastrophe falls on her and allows her to see what her path should be. But, of course, it is a story of a marriage unravelling as well. It's amazing writing and beautifully done.'

Nora is incredibly brave. She knows she has forged a signature and has been carrying the burden of repaying the loan for eight years and, when this storm breaks over her, she thinks the only way out is to kill herself and we see her nerving herself up to do it. But in the end Torvald's attitude to everything makes her realise that she can't be with this man any longer and what she really needs is to be an independent woman.

Tovald, Gill says, is in many ways a likeable person but absolutely part of a patriarchal society where the man does all the work and looks after the little doll of a wife who doesn't have any worries because she's not thought capable of dealing with them and giving her no credit for her own personality.

All he's interested is his public persona and making sure his reputation is safe. His wife is just an appendage. Darren France is playing Torvald with David Blood as Kronstad, Mia Chadwick as Kristine, Peter Sowerbutts as

Dr Rank and Penny Martin as Anne-Marie.

Krogstad seems to be the villain of the piece to start with but, says Gill, we have to consider why he is blackmailing Nora. He has children but no longer has a wife and needs to secure his future and his reputation. He is blackmailing because he has to. And then there's Kristine, who Nora has let into her secret.

'One of the wonderful things in A Doll's House is that you admire Nora for taking this stand. But there's this little part of you that says: 'Yes, but she's abandoning her husband and children. It does leave a question mark and that question lays over women today. For how long do you hang on to a relationship that is empty or dead?'

t A Doll's House is at Wingfield Barns, November 11, 01379 384505/Roydon Village Hall, November 12, 01379 652241, disscornhall.co.uk/Seagull Theatre, Pakefield, Lowestoft, November 18, 01502 589726, theseagull.co.uk/The Cut, Halesworth, November 19, 0300 3033211, newcut.org/Beccles Public Hall, November 25, 01502 770060, becclespublichall.org.uk/Fisher Theatre, Bungay, November 26, 01986 897130, fishertheatre.org

t All shows 7.30pm, tickets £10 (£8.50 cons). Full details at openspacetheatre.org.uk

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