Three women walk through different doors at the start of Stef Smith’s revolutionary reimagining of Henrik Ibsen’s nineteenth century meditation on women, men and power. It is as if they have broken through the frames that captured their once still lives to map out a brand new story for themselves in colours of rage, making history as they go.
This is just the first act of liberation in Smith’s version of the play, which puts three Noras from crucial moments in that history onstage in the first play in the Citizens Theatre’s Citizens Women season. In an equally crucial move, the three actresses who play Nora in 1918, 1968 and 2018 double up to become different versions of Nora’s former best friend Christine.
With the men who control them similarly represented down the ages, Smith’s device exposes just how little has changed over the last century in terms of everyday domestic abuse. As the women are blackmailed emotionally, intellectually and sexually into sorting out their own economic disenfranchisement, their coping methods too are the same. Only the drugs are different.
This makes for an explosive couple of hours in Elizabeth Freestone’s slow-burning production, which makes flesh of Smith’s writing on Tom Piper’s timeless-looking set.
While Tim Barrow, Michael Dylan and Daniel Ward play the men with various degrees of neediness, brutality and desperation, it is the women who are the heart of the piece. And Anna Russell-Martin as the present day Nora, Maryam Hamidi as her 1968 version and Molly Vevers playing her 1918 incarnation are fearless in the fire and life they bring to the roles.
Onstage throughout, the trio seem to gain strength from one another as they go. When they incant in unison, their arias give voice to the hidden desires that ebb and flow beyond Nora’s self-imposed life in lavender. And when they dance in shapes choreographed by Emily-Jane Boyle to Michael John McCarthy’s brooding underscore that suddenly flares up into floor-shaking life, the same unity renders them invincible. However uncertain the future for Smith’s assorted Noras, a brave new tomorrow is there for the taking.
The Herald, March 21st 2019