Review: A Doll’s House, Royal Exchange, Manchester

David Sturzaker as Torvald Helmer and Cush Jumbo as Nora in A Doll's House. Picture: Jonathan Keenan
David Sturzaker as Torvald Helmer and Cush Jumbo as Nora in A Doll's House. Picture: Jonathan Keenan
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There seems to be no slump in the doll’s housing market.

Soon after the highly-acclaimed Young Vic production of Ibsen’s classic domestic drama in London, comes an equally eye-catching production that proves there’s no North-South divide in such property values.

This one stars Cush Jumbo . . . and that’s exactly what she does in a performance of immense poise and no little elegance.

Her Nora Helmer character is a woman painted into a corner of designer Helen Goddard’s graceful livingroom design.

A seemingly small deception, designed to save the health of her husband, becomes a poisonous secret that threatens what appears to be domestic bliss.

Addressed in bird-like terms by her doting husband Torvald she’s a doll child kept in a gilded cage.

The actress with such a distinctive moniker has already made a name for herself here in Pygmalion and As You Like It, and all three performances signify an outstanding talent for portraying women of breadth and integrity.

She’s aided here by a highly-fluent translation from Bryony Lavery that clearly crystallises the motivations for all the characters involved.

The cruel pomposity of David Sturzaker’s Torvald can still take audience breath away in more enlightened times. “Happiness,” he claims “is not an option.” But Ibsen’s play reminds us all that honesty and the need for liberation are not life’s optional extras.

Director Greg Hersov marshals a top-drawer cast and even the Exchange’s unique space has seldom felt so claustrophobic.

Whether you read it all as a call for female emancipation, or freedom for all, may depend on gender but just don’t miss a scintillating production and a stunning central performance.

It continues until June 1.

David Upton