A Doll's House

Written by Henrik Ibsen (translated by Michael Meyer)

Thurs 23rd - Sat 25th November & Tues 28th November - Sat 2nd December 1995

Directed by Jacquie Penrose

The Helmers are the perfect couple, but behind the facade of their happy marriage lies Nora's secret... As fresh and vibrant as when it was first performed, Ibsen's play rings like a cry of defiance in the face of all petty oppression and domestic tyranny.

AuthorHenrik Ibsen

Henrik Ibsen (1828 - 1906)

Ibsen was a major 19th-century Norwegian playwright, theatre director, and poet. He is often referred to as the godfather of modern drama and is one of the founders of Modernism in the theatre. His plays were considered scandalous to many of his era, when Victorian values of family life and propriety largely held sway in Europe. Ibsen's work examined the realities that lay behind many facades, possessing a revelatory nature that was disquieting to many contemporaries. It utilised a critical eye and free enquiry into the conditions of life and issues of morality.

Ibsen was born to a relatively well-off family and became an apprentice pharmacist at the age of 15. He fathered an illegitimate son at the age of 18 - (whom he never met) and later left for Christiania (Oslo) to try to attend university. He failed the entrance exams and started to concentrate on his writing. His first play 'Catiline', was published under the pseudonym Brynjolf Bjarme when he was only 20, but it was not performed. In 1858 he became the creative director of the Christiania Theatre and married Suzannah Thoresen the same year. She gave birth to their only child, a son, Sigurd in 1859. Disenchanted with the poverty and lack of recognition of his life in Norway, in 1864 he went to live in Italy.

His next play, 'Brand' written in 1865, was staged to critical and financial success, as was the following play, 'Peer Gynt' to which Edvard Grieg famously composed incidental music and songs. Ibsen moved from Italy to Germany in 1868, where he spent years writing the play he regarded as his main work, 'Emperor and Galilean' although very few shared his opinion about this play. Ibsen published A Doll's House in 1879 and Ghosts in 1881; both scathing commentaries on Victorian morality. 'The Wild Duck' written in 1884 is by many considered Ibsen's finest work, and it is certainly the most complex. In later plays such as 'Hedda Gabler' and 'The Master Builder', Ibsen explored psychological conflicts. These plays are particularly interesting because of their hard-edged, objective look at interpersonal confrontation.

Ibsen can be credited with completely rewriting the rules of drama with a realism which was to be adopted by Chekhov and others and which we see in the theatre to this day. He returned to Norway in 1891 and died in Christiania (now Oslo) after a series of strokes in 1906.

TranslatorMichael Meyer

Michael Meyer (1921 - 2000)

Michael Meyer is recognised internationally as the principal English-language authority on Ibsen. He was born in London into a merchant family of Jewish origin, and studied English at Christ Church College, Oxford. His first translation of a Swedish book was the novel 'The Long Ships' by Frans G. Bengtsson. His work appeared in the New York Review of Books. A playwright himself, his translations of many Ibsen's plays (as well as Strindberg's) are universally acclaimed. While he wrote acclaimed biographies of both these playwrights; it was the volume on Ibsen which is generally regarded as definitive - it won the 1971 Whitbread Award for Biography. His autobiography 'Not Prince Hamlet' was published in 1989.

PlayA Doll's House

'A Doll's House' was written in 1879 and caused a huge controversy even before its premiere at the Theatre Royal Copenhagen. It sold out in the two and a half weeks between its first publication and performance and was considered scandalous by those in authority, both in its treatment of marriage and for the fact that the heroine stands up for herself.

It tells the story of the childish Nora Helmer, a wife prized by her husband Torvald for her good looks and devotion to him. In order to pay for a trip to help Torvald's ailing health, Nora secretly commits fraud. But her crime is discovered by her husband's disgraced employee Krogstad, who callously blackmails her. Nora loves her husband above all else. But when she risks her reputation in order to save his, she begins to question her devotion and finds herself fighting for her own life. Nora's opinions and feelings are not very well respected in the society of the time. She is a "doll wife" - just there for show and when she commits the forgery troubles for both of them loom large.

The play is a powerful statement of his Ibsen's radical beliefs about gender, the folly of idealism and the nature of modern love. He allowed his heroine, Nora Helmer, not only to speak her mind about the loveless sham marriage with her husband Torvald, but also to take a moral stand to preserve her own integrity by leaving home and turning her back on the awful, duplicitous and diseased life they had both been enduring. In essence, it is the story of woman who wakes up to reality. The married life of Nora Helmer is based on a lie. Victorian hypocrisies of integrity, morality, prestige and status are challenged at their very basic level.

The Bench Production

A Doll's House poster image

This play was staged at Havant Arts Centre, East Street Havant - Bench Theatre's home since 1977.


Nora HelmerAli Bullivant
Torvald HelmerSteven Foden
Christine LindeSally Hartley
Nils KrogstadDamon Wakelin
Dr Peter RankPeter Corrigan
Anne-MarieLindy Nettleton
HelenGemma Harding
The Helmer ChildrenPippa Fairhall
Simon Jenkins
Philip Bowhill


Director Jacquie Penrose
Stage Manager Gemma Harding
Assistant Stage Manager Geina Cantle
Lighting and Sound Andrew Caple
Costumes Juno Hollyhock
Set Design Jacquie Penrose
Set Construction David Penrose


The NewsMike Allen

Bold approach clearly pays off

An amateur group that takes on one of Ibsen's mighty dramas is either bold or rash, depending on its degree of success. Put Bench Theatre on the side of the bold. Jacquie Penrose's production, heavy on irony and sharp in counter-point, is admirably lucid in presenting the story of a woman for whom exposure of a past misdeed provokes realisation of the suffocating nature of her marriage.

Nora Helmer, the heroine, is a monster role for any actress, amateur or pro, and Ali Bullivant catches both her girlishness and her moments of dignity. But she overdoes the childlike quality so that Nora's awakening comes like a both from the blue rather than as natural growth. There needs to be a sense of playing up to Torvald's treatment of her as his doll. If the actress could relax a little, not try so hard in her twittering and fluttering, she could achieve greater depth of characterisation. At times it might help if the director were to give her more natural movement, leaving her less dependent on hand gestures.

Fine dramatic contrast is provided by Steve Foden's Torvald - coldly understated, proving his pettiness by his reaction to being called petty, and then declining into whimpering childishness as he sees the real woman emerge in Nora. Other well-focused performances come from Sally Hartley as the grey Christine, Damon Wakelin as the man who provokes the marriage crisis, and Pete Corrigan, playing the old doctor with lip-smacking relish.

The past two professional productions of the play I have seen kept the Helmers' children firmly off-stage. Here three juniors perform splendidly. Boldness indeed!

The News, 24th November 1995

Production Photographs