Playing with Dolls

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Auckland Theatre Company’s upcoming production of A Doll’s House promises a fresh spin on this classic tale of the not-so-blissful domestic life of the Helmer family. Luke Alexander Wilson spoke to award-winning Kiwi author Emily Perkins, who was tasked with penning a new adaptation for the season.

How does your adaptation offer audiences a new approach to the text?

This is such a classic play, it’s perfect really so my main aim has been not to f**k it up!  But Ibsen, like other great playwrights, can handle multiple re-tellings and interpretations. My ‘Doll’s House’ is, I hope, a version for here and now that will give this NZ audience the sense of urgency that the original must have had.

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Upon its première in 1879 the play’s ‘shock factor’ was due to how it challenged gender norms. Considering how much gender theory has developed in the past century, do you believe this ‘shock factor’ will persist?

‘Theory’ might be the key word there. We know or believe so much more than we act on. Culture is entrenched deeply and even though there are eruptions and revolutions, things often change slowly – and identity politics can be invisibly intertwined with other structures like prevailing economic forces. So I think our understanding of gender has undergone a revolution since 1879, but that the way we live it, in some cases, hasn’t changed all that much.

I think even though we might be more enlightened, or hope we are, we’re still capable of being shocked by people bucking convention.

Since 1879, both the nature and understanding of marriage has changed considerably. How do you think this affects the relevance of the piece to twenty-first century theatre-goers?

Marriage is still quite crazy. In our culture it’s not as imbalanced as it was… but when you combine the fascinating complications of marriage – love, sex, loyalty, compromise, parenting, all that, with the complications of life beyond the home – work, friendships, money, community, values – you can get a volatile mix.

Nora is claimed by some as a feminist icon of nineteenth century literature, but this was something Ibsen was uneasy about claiming himself. What are your thoughts on what she represents for audience members?

My early reading of the play was mostly feminist. But I think that’s intertwined with other things. If so much of being a woman and a mother is culturally constructed, then so is masculinity.         I don’t see Nora as an icon for anything. She’s more complicated – there’s no easy answer for her dilemma… Hopefully, though, the play puts the focus on some meaningful questions!

A Doll’s House runs from Thursday 30 April to Saturday 23 May at The Maidment Theatre, Alfred St, Auckland. For more info and tickets visit www.atc.co.nz.

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