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Mabou Mines DollHouse

Kings Theatre
4 stars
When Henrik Ibsen wrote his proto feminist dissection of the sex wars in 1879, the scandal it caused can’t have been a patch on Lee Breuer and Maude Mitchell’s post-modernist dissection of it. Using what Breuer calls ‘the Politics Of Scale’ as its starting point, the result is a dazzlingly audacious deconstruction, which takes its central premise of patriarchal infantilism to its logical limit. All male characters are played by actors of restricted growth, while the women are all nearly six foot tall. Breuer even makes Ibsen laugh out loud funny via a series of routines derived from American music hall, silent movie slapstick and a knowing faux melodrama which acknowledges its own artifice at every turn. Having the cast talk in the sort of sing-song Scandinavian accent not heard since the Swedish chef baked his last cake on The Muppet Show helps too.

Opening on a bare stage, pianist Eve Beglarian takes a bow before seating at her keyboard to usher in what looks like a parlour entertainment. Scarlet drapes slowly engulf the stage, and a pop-up book doll’s house walls are raised. This is the universe Nora has made her own. Like a little girl playing happy families in a Baby Jane wig, there’s something grotesque at play, even though, more like a Tennessee Williams matriarch, she’s instinctively in touch with her hyper-active sexual allure. Dream sequences border on the Felliniesque, while an even more manic second half is peppered with one-line in-jokes and prat-falls, until a quite stunning stylistic lurch rollercoasts its way towards the play’s denouement.

In Maude Mitchell’s literarily towering performance as Nora, there’s something of Anna Nicole-Smith, that all too 21st century all-American gold-digger and pneumatic Amazonian Barbie doll. But where Smith crashed and burned into tragedy, Nora’s rites of passage and slow-burning self-knowledge helps her strip bare her little wifelet layers enough to understand the value of defiance.

The Herald, August 25th 2007

ends

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