Recently, I’ve begun to ‘have a go’ at Henrik Ibsen’s plays. Why should I care? you ask. Isn’t he that beardy, old Norweigan bloke who wrote about potty women?
Well, actually you should care, if you’re remotely interested in the development of the theatre or social history. Or you just want a minute taste of life in a middle-class Scandinavian household in the later decades of the 19th century.
Ibsen’s plan to was to use the plays to present questions for debate, particularly about the position held by women (in the home and in society) to a wider audience. It’s unclear how he expected that debate to proceed, but in reality, he probably got more of a reaction than he bargained for.
It’s hard to imagine the impact that A Doll’s House had when it was first performed. Theatre-goers stormed out of performances and one actress even refused to perform the character of Norah, unless the play’s ending were changed.
The plays I’ve read amounted to three ‘re-reads’ (A Doll’s House, Hedda Gabler and The Master Builder) and two ‘new reads’ (Ghosts and The Lady from the Sea). Of the five, A Doll’s House and Hedda Gabler are still the best for me. Who can resist the slow burn of A Doll’s House with the final bomb blast of the last act, when Norah gives Torvald both barrels? And talking of barrels, how about Hedda Gabler on a combined murder and self destruct mission? Blood on the walls, or what. Any way you look at it all the female leads present rip-roaring opportunities for any actress with some guts. And yet on the face of it, nothing happens in any of the plays.
Forget the so called ‘bunny-boiler’ films of the 1980s and blow the dust off the beardy Norwegian.