Another Soup Productions launches its first play at Fountains Hall in Grey College on Monday 15th November, and they’ve not been timid with their choice. Henrik Ibsen’s A Doll’s House has been selected for their debut; a play highly demanding and intriguing for both the actors and the audience.
A Doll’s House follows Nora Helmer, a childish married woman, as she comes to realise that her life has been a lie; a series of play roles equally imposed upon and accepted by her. Her family and friends, against a background of economic pressure and socio-political stereotypes, provide a fascinating insight into 19th century life. With building tensions and awkward pauses, the play strips family interaction to the core. The result for Nora is a questioning of the concepts of security, a re-evaluation of everything she has known.
The play is open to students and the public alike. It will be of particular attraction to first year English Literature students, as the play features on one of the core modules. Director Dave Spencer and Producer Rebekah Moore said that this was one of the main reasons why they chose this play, along with the general popularity and small cast seeming attractive for their first production. However, whether you’re taking “Introduction to Drama” or not, the play is a must-see. The cast were eager to justify its place in the dramatic canon. Comments about the play being “raw and real”, “wondrous and miraculous” bubbled over from them. It’s “one of the plays to see” said Juliet Maddock, who takes the lead role. “Ibsen. Tick. Hamlet. Tick,” joked Steffi Walker, who plays Anne-Marie.
And A Doll’s House certainly was revolutionary. Written in 1879, its first productions sent such shock waves amongst the theatrical world for its subversive portrayal of women that a different ending was forced by Ibsen’s agent for performances in Germany. Thankfully, Another Soup Productions will be presenting the fully polemical original version, not the watered-down, more politically acceptable German version, which Ibsen later viewed as a disgrace.
Another Soup Productions have been careful to ensure that the controversy and realism of the play still resound for a modern audience. Using the concept of an “indeterminate time” as the basis for the set and costume design, the director and producer feel that the audience will have the opportunity to experience the power of the play’s realism, as did Ibsen’s contemporaries, without losing the ambiance in a cloud of modernity. Spencer was keen to stress the play’s continued relevance to the suppression of women today, pointing to some of the more orthodox beliefs held by some Muslims. As he implied, the main themes still resound in politics and the play should consequently not be dismissed as an outdated feminist piece.
The cast have taken an independent approach to the play, avoiding influence from film and television adaptations. They expressed a strong passion for theatre being based upon the development of a group dynamic, not just the direction of one or two people. Maddock explained that the actors have thus been, like their characters, “on a route of discovery” themselves.
Fountains Hall is a relatively small performing space, with a seating capacity of 100 people. Yet, this seems to suit the setting of the play. One of the most notable aspects of Ibsen’s dramatic realism is his ability to make the audience feel as if they are being drawn into the domestic spheres of his characters. Walker noted that the theatre space was ideally “intimate for a domestic play” of this kind. As such, the audience will be able to experience the tensions of the play as if they are residing in the living-room, where the action takes place. This feeling of inclusion is perfect for A Doll’s House, in which the theme of claustrophobia for women in the household is key.
Close to production, casts are often tense, cramming in as much rehearsal time as possible, but Another Soup Productions exuded a happy confidence. “Last night was amazing,” commented Michael Huband, who assumes the role of Rank, about their previous rehearsal. “It’s going to be an excellent show,” Spencer added.
With performances on Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday at 19.30, the play will not clash with other productions on the Durham University theatre scene. So why not judge for yourself this newly-arrived Production Company, whilst watching the work of a playwright whose long-term highly esteemed plays will not be leaving our shelves or our theatres any time soon.