Ceres looks just like something out of Ibsen’s time. A quaint little village of nineteenth century style houses on a hilltop, plonked in the middle of the rolling heaths just outside Geelong. It’s there, in the old temperance hall, that Theatre of the Winged Unicorn stages such landmark plays of timeless importance as “A Midsummer Night’s Dream”, “Three Sisters” and, tonight, Henrik Ibsen’s landmark social commentary “A Doll’s House”.
Second only to Shakespeare, Ibsen is one of the most constantly staged playwrights of all time, and of them, “A Doll’s House” is certainly his most beloved, and it’s primary protagonist Nora Helmer amongst the most intimate, complex and lovingly crafted characters ever portrayed in literature or drama. An icon of feminism before feminism existed; a strong, wilful, determined and quietly intelligent powerhouse for whom the expectations are mountainous.
Entering the homemade theatre, the first thing that strikes the audience is the gorgeous stage design; it looks just like a doll house, as per Ibsen’s original direction. It seems as though Stuart, Alard and Ingrid Pitt have reached into the text and pulled out the very thing readers have been imagining for one hundred and forty years. The wardrobe is also stunningly authentic, arranged by director Elaine Mitchell along with Carol Fogg and actress Melissa Musselthwite. Then come the performances.
Stepping into the role of Nora is Georgia Chara, star of the upcoming horror film “Living Space” and known by the rest of the country for her roles in “Wentworth” and “Sammy J and Randy in Ricketts Lane”, in both of which she handled a certain duality that courted – but never came close to, from a writing perspective – her role in “A Doll’s House”. She is a towering pillar of quiet strength packed into the cherubic appearance of a Botticelli Angel. The perfect Nora. Her confrontations with Steven Georgiadis’ Krogstadt are utterly electrifying; a textbook honest and truthful performance, hidden beneath pretence which is then peeled back layer by layer until the raw intelligence and fortitude of the character are revealed. Alone and silent, she commands the space with intimate connections to her surroundings and then, hiding her anxieties from husband Torvald, she is heartbreakingly honest in how she pulls the pretence back over herself. This is an actor at the top of her game, expertly handling one of the most difficult characters in literary history.
She is supported by a fine cast; however it comes down to rehearsal time and priority, as is often the case. Certain intimacies were missing between Nora and Phillip Besancon’s Dr. Rank, whose accent was distracting amongst all the Victorian-style manners. He did see the connection between the character Rank and Ibsen himself, though, it must be said. Also there are the children; working with actors so young requires a certain gift, such as Elaine Mitchell showed in “A Midsummer Night’s Dream”, but the actors don’t seem to have spent enough time getting comfortable with them and developing the necessary intimacies that show a relationship between nanny and children and mother and children. Melissa Musselthwite in the role of nanny Anna, gives an honest and instinctive performance, so it could only be limiting rehearsal time with the children that is to blame for the emotion rift between them and both Nora and Anna.
All in all, Elaine Mitchell has managed to pull off another “A Midsummer Night’s Dream”; a magical, almost dreamlike rendition of a beloved classic, married with her acute instincts for classical accompaniment, this one is well worth seeing.
Review by Max Davine