>a doll's house by toy factory theatre ensemble

>reviewed by jeremy samuel

>date: 20 apr 2002
>time: 8 pm
>venue: toy factory theatrette
>rating: **

>tired already? go home then
>review junkie? whitney, give them this click to sniff

>look, we know that you need to know that we, as responsible reviewers, have some quantifiable categories to rate productions, and are not just relying on some undefinable instinct or gut feeling. So to put your mind at ease, we will give you a logical rating system based on the practitioner's vision / and the reviewer's response of a particular production. Here it is then: ***** : Transcendent / Rapturous. ****: Crystal / Appreciative. ***: Transmitted / Thoughtful. **:Vague / Unsatisfied. * : Uncommunicated / Mystified. Yet in the end, you will feel that this is (1) a cheap attempt to justify the subjective arbitrariness of our rating system (2) buttressed by an interest in the logical (and inevitable) categorisation of such productions, which is (3) undermined by the cheapness of the attempt, and (4) confused by the creeping feeling you are getting that we are dead serious in our feeling that this rating system is an accurate description of the content, intent and quality of the production. Oh please -- does it even matter now? Look, at least we tried.


A DOLL'S HOUSE is as relevant today as when it was written in 1879; at least that's what I think director Corrine Chua was trying to say when she described it in a programme note as being "a contradicting resemblence [sic] of the present". Toy Factory's production of this Norwegian classic relocates the action to China in the 1920s, which works because of the universality of the text.

The play revolves around a young wife, Nora (Cui Yu in this version), who commits a crime to save her husband Torvald's (Duo Fu) life. Faced with exposure and disgrace, she is forced to re-evaluate her priorities, and the roles of daughter, wife and mother that society has forced upon her. Although ostensibly about the plight of one woman in a male-dominated society, the play is less concerned with feminism - Ibsen once claimed to be "not even quite sure what women's rights really are" - than with the right of the individual to his own identity versus his duty to conform to society's expectations.

Chua's thoughts on this, again from the director's note, are bizarre enough to be worth quoting in full:

"The world seems to be revolving in the wrong concept, survival becomes the strongest when the weak are exploited. We are close to victory, we are not. In simplest, we can never experience genuine human relationships living on the edge of human manipulation."

This lack of coherence is endemic to the production as a whole. In Chua's version, Cui Yu is not a strong woman forced by circumstances to desperate measures, but a simpering featherbrain whose final actions are out of keeping with her character. As Cui Yu, Teo Kiat Sing appears to have borrowed her style of acting from the 1920s as well, all melodramatic gasps and wide, staring eyes. Her performance is annoyingly mannered - she enunciates each word separately ("I-don't-love-you-any-more") and you can all but see the square brackets around her every pause.

>>'...you have six actors in search of a director. The cast is basically competent, but no attempt has been made to unify their disparate acting styles''

The rest of the cast try their best, with varying levels of success. Edward Chow's Duo Fu shouts a lot, but otherwise has trouble expressing emotion. Eugene Lin is unusually lecherous as Dr Rank, but nonetheless manages to be convincing considering that he is playing a man three times his age. Chio Su-Ping gives a fine, naturalistic performance as the put-upon Mrs Lind, but lacks the emotional gravitas required - her proposal to her old flame Krogstad (Ke Ya) should feel like the climax of her life so far, but comes out with all the intensity of "would you like a drink."

Ke Ya himself is flamboyantly played by Jameson Soh, looking like a mafia boss in his pinstriped suit and trilby. Soh is the only person here visibly acting, his vigorous facial expressions and forceful speech underlining the menace inherent in his character, but also veering dangerously over the top.

Add in the charming Geraldine Tang as the nurse and you have six actors in search of a director. The cast is basically competent, but no attempt has been made to unify their disparate acting styles. The blocking is all to pieces, with people moving for no reason and facing away from each other when speaking. A maddening number of speeches are delivered straight out front - in fact a rostrum has been placed downstage for the sole purpose of allowing people to stand on it during their monologues.

Basic stagecraft aside, Chua's interpretation of the play as a whole is highly questionable. Torvald should be an essentially decent but misguided type; she turns him into a monster who spends the play controlling his wife's every move, and all but rapes her at the end. After Cui Yu's final exit followed by the famous door slam, his line "gone, empty" is delivered not with sadness but mocking laughter. He has not been changed by the experience, or by his wife's words - but then none of the characters are really allowed to develop in this production.

The pity of it is that A DOLL'S HOUSE is a powerful, moving text, and Toy Factory's production of it is not without merit. The set (designed by Chua herself, to give credit where it is due) and costumes are attractive and effective, and the period music a fitting counterpoint to the action. Ultimately, though, the director's lack of a coherent vision scuppers it, taking away the structure needed to support such a massive work. Upon leaving him, Nora tells Torvald that only "the greatest miracle" could restore their marriage. And although "God himself" is thanked by Chua in her acknowledgements, one doubts that even such a miracle could save this production.