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Fragility of Life in the Presence of Death: "A Dolls House" by Xameleon Theatre ****

"A Dolls House” based on Henrik Ibsen’s play is a new premiere at Xameleon Theatre. More than a hundred years ago this famous play anticipated the development of “new drama” and influenced many playwrights and directors of the past century. What attracted London’s director Dmitry Turchaninov to this play today?

Set and costume designer Irina Gluzman creates on the stage of The Cockpit Theatre a warm and cosy world of the Helmers’ perfect family home with very few props: there is a soft rug on the floor, a few pieces of furniture and warm lighting. Happy and carefree Nora (Vlada Lemeshevskaya) is busy packing numerous Christmas presents and wrapping them in colourful papers with red ribbons. However, the illusion of perfect happiness will not be long as soon we will learn about the big secret Nora keeps from her husband: she borrowed a large sum of money in order to cure him.

The conflict of Ibsen’s play is hidden not so much in the interaction between the characters but in their internal struggles and their reactions to their lives’ turmoils. The problems they face are still relevant nowadays: what is hidden behind the facade of family happiness? To what extent our actions depend on public opinion? Are the laws we obey justified and human?

The actors of Xameleon Theatre make us reflect on these questions by depicting on stage twisted lives of their characters. Oleg Sidorchik performs doctor Rank, who is hopelessly in love with Nora, with simplicity and humour that hides his terrible illness only he is aware of. It seems as if doctor Rank is trying to brush away the death that approaches him, but the theme of death becomes central for this character and it transports problems that worry other characters on a completely different level. You subconsciously start questioning yourself: what is really meaningful in the face of death?

Everything is clear for Nora’s husband in his happy world: a beautiful wife, wonderful children, flawless reputation… Alexander Mercury performs a person who is full of happiness and sure in his infallibility, but this illusion of stability becomes the cause of his drama when the fear of public disapproval blinds him and does not let him appreciate the selfless act of his wife.

There is no doubt that Oleg Hill’s performance of Nils Krogstad is a great success of this production. Krogstad mercilessly blackmails Nora with the signature she forged in order to save her husband’s life. Throughout the performance we see a disgusting hunched old man with a raspy voice - the actor doesn’t spare creative means in order to create a really vivid character and he clearly abandons the amplua of a “hero” we can often see him in. However, at the end Krogstad changes unexpectedly: he removes the mask of a wicked blackmailer and we see a completely different person, transformed by love. We can clearly sense his own drama as he was once rejected by not only the society but also by the woman he loved. Krogstad and Kristine Linde (Oxana Sidorenko) had been given a new chance to get together, but how stable their happiness would be after Krogstad’s letter to Nora’s husband destroyed her perfect “dolls” house?

Vlada Lemeshevskaya, who often portrays her characters as strong-willed and stern women, displays unusual softness in her portrayal of Nora. You can see more colours and shades in her acting than usual which shows that she is growing as an actress. Nevertheless, so far there is no clear transformation in her character when fragile world of Nora is shuttered by her realisation that her husband, upon whom she has entrusted her life, is not the person she thought he was.

We do not see Helmers’ children in the production, we just hear their voices, so their existence in Nora’s life seems ghostly. The appearance of one child on stage would have made the realisation of the tragedy of Nora, who decided to leave her husband and children forever, much more powerful for the audience. We can only imagine what awaits Nora when we see the suffering of her nunny Anne-Marie (Victoria Milham), who many years ago was forced to abandon her own daughter in order to get a job in the house of Nora’s father.

There are no revolutionary director’s moves in Dmitry Turchaninov’s production, even the music is used quite modesty. The director carefully immerses into the text of the play and tries to realise together with us what really happens to the characters and what awaits Nora after she leaves her husband. However, it is the music that demonstates that Nora’s destiny is similar to the one of Anne-Marie: at the end of the production we hear a sad female folk song... How will Nora’s heart cope with her decision to abandon her children?

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