THE WOMEN'S MOVEMENT HAS claitned few champions from among the male half of the population. Henrik Ibsen is an exception. With A Doll's House. the Norwegian dramatist‘s masterwork from an

oeuvre that changed the history of

European theatre. Ibsen produced the greatest feminist play ever written by a man.

His protagonist Nora. who leaves her husband and children for the life of persecution that awaited separated women at the time of the play's first production in 1879. is a feminist icon. Played by the greatest actresses of the century. among them Jane Fonda. whose 70s film version encapsulated all that was militant in feminism at the time. the role is usually presented in terms of a battle between a long- suffering woman and her hypocritical. insensitive brute of a husband.

Perhaps a post-feminist reinterpretation is overdue. but it‘s surprising that it should come from the Norwegian National Theatre. nothing less than a shrine to lbsen‘s work. From this unlikely source a building that adjoins the Ibsen Museum Of Norway comes a

production that‘s the equivalent of

seeing Henry V played as unpatriotic. Hamlet as decisive. or Shylock as a Seventh Day Adventist.

Director Kjetil Bang-Hansen is unrepentant. ‘I think there's a myth about this woman Nora.‘ he says when I meet him in Oslo. ‘Some women want to keep her as an icon for the liberated woman. but we‘ve tried to put the couple at the centre. We‘ve tried to defend Helmer and find his motivations

and situation. This has caused a lot of

reaction. because a lot of women want to see Nora as the big hero.‘

Bang-Hansen has shifted the emphasis onto the couple's shattered relationship. ‘It‘s a shared problem. which results in terrible consequences for the children: something we see a lot of today.‘ he says. ‘Nora is a spoilt woman. Remember. the events of the play are happening at Christmas. Helmer feels. after a struggle. that he finally has his job at the batik. his princess and his kingdom. He‘s pleased enough to turn her into a doll. and that's his fault. but he‘s stabbed in the back by the person he least expects it from.’

Now you might dismiss this sort of

comment as ravings from an old male

16 THE lIST 20 Jet—3 Aug 2000

Words: Steve Cramer

chauvinist. but at least one woman takes his line. Annike Van l)enhippe. the acclaimed Norwegian actress playing Nora. sees this radical reassessment of her role as appropriate to our age. ()ne of the notable aspects of the production. which after its brief stint at Edinburgh's Royal Lyceum will be

going on to a succession of

destinations around the world. has been the warmth of its reception among younger female members of its audiences.

Denhippe is unfazed by this. The play. she says. reflects 21st century relationships. ‘In the old days. it was difficult for a woman to be alone.‘ she says. ‘but these days it‘s easier to be alone than with someone. it's harder to stay than to leave. ln lbsen's time. if a woman left her children. she’d never be able to see them again. but today we can.~

With the new social circumstances. Bang~llansen argues that we must

The Norwegian National Theatre's new production of an Ibsen classic has created both acclaim and alarm in its own country. The List flew to Oslo to find out why

A DOLL’S HOUSE is causing such a stir.

reprioritise the play"s subject matter. and tnuch of what goes on. Nora‘s well-known penchant for macaroons. which she conceals about the house and consumes furtively. is not interpreted as a gesture of quiet defiance of patriarchal control. but a symptom of anorexia and another indicator of her neurosis. Similarly. the new version emphasises a point glossed over in previous productions. the difference in social background of the two characters.

‘.\'ora is from ()slo. or Kristiana. as it was called then. whereas llelmer is from the West (‘oastf says Bang— Hansen. ‘llc speaks with an accent when he's emotional or angry. and that makes him rather vulnerable. With the final confrontation. which is very cruel. his defeat has much more serious consequences than we think. since he’s an outsider in this society.‘

A Doll’s House plays at the Royal Lyceum, Edinburgh, Thu 3-Sat 5 Aug.