Thursday, July 18, 2024

Q&A: A Doll’s House makes a return to the Vancouver stage after 20 years

Local audiences will have an opportunity to see Henrik Ibsen’s A Doll’s House, following a twenty year absence from the professional stage in Vancouver, with a new production set to play the Jericho Arts Centre in October.

First performed in Stockholm in 1880, A Doll’s House caused an immediate sensation, sparking debate and controversy as it told its story of Nora, a seemingly typical housewife who becomes disillusioned with her condescending husband.

We caught up with Vancouver actor Genevieve Fleming, who will play Nora in the upcoming production, to find out what’s in it for a modern audience.

A Doll’s House plays the Jericho Arts Centre (1675 Discovery St, Vancouver) Oct 6-24. Tickets are available online from Brown Paper Tickets.

1. Why A Doll’s House now?

Director Tamara McCarthy and I have been looking for the right project to collaborate on for a while now: we knew that it wanted to have a strong female presence, and to reflect social issues that are important to us. A Doll’s House hasn’t been produced professionally in Vancouver since 1994 – in the twenty years since its last production we feel it hasn’t aged a day, in both meaning and relevance. We’re excited to offer Vancouverites the opportunity to experience this play for perhaps the first time.

2. The play was controversial in its time – does any of that controversy still hold true in the 21st century?

I’m very interested to see how audiences will respond to Nora and her decisions, and how the actions of the other characters will be received. Without giving everything away to the A Doll’s House uninitiated, Nora makes some pretty radical choices during the course of the play that are sure to strike a nerve – whether you fall on one side of the issue or the other.

3. It premiered in 1879 – what makes it still relevant for today’s audiences?

The commodification of women is still very much present in our society. Women’s bodies continue to be treated as sites of containment, control, and oppression – just look anywhere in the media, in advertising, or at the levels of sexual harassment many women experience on a daily basis; having recently experienced a week’s worth of street harassment in New York City firsthand, I can vouch for this. Nora’s husband views her as his property and controls her as such – I don’t see much difference between this and our society’s perpetuation of the notion that female bodies are consumer objects.

4. What makes A Doll’s House so enduring?

Having wanted to play Nora for over a decade, I think it’s enduring because we care. Nora does her best to navigate an impossible situation, and though she makes some questionable decisions, she does what she does because her heart is in the right place.  Over the course of rehearsals, I’ve also fallen much more in love with the individual journeys of the other characters. Our unofficial motto for this production is “set in the past, but not stuck in the past.” I think audiences will see how little the characters have aged since they were first written.

5. At one point Ibsen re-wrote the ending to be more optimistic. Assuming you are sticking with his original ending, did you ever give thought to presenting the second version?

Tamara saw this question in your email and jumped all over it. She writes: “Ibsen did not write an alternative ending to be more optimistic, he reluctantly wrote it while under very strong pressure from the German theatre.  He refers to this act as a “barbaric outrage”.”

Of course, I’m inclined to agree with Ibsen. Nora staying in her doll’s house at the end completely undermines the play – it’s about courage and conviction in the face of fear and censure.  I would never produce this play with its alternate ending. And as you can see neither would Tamara.

6. It has been said that A Doll’s House isn’t so much about feminism as it is about finding yourself. Do you agree? If so, how does that influence how the show is presented?

I think feminism is finding yourself. The Nora we see at the beginning of the play has never had the opportunity to express an original opinion, to disagree with her husband – even to refuse his sexual advances. That she musters the strength and conviction to pursue self-discovery despite the overwhelming social obstacles and her own paralyzing fear of the unknown is incredibly feminist. Not to mention badass.

7. Will there be slamming doors?

You’ll have to see it to find out.

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