“Who, ARE you?” Emily Perkins Doll’s House

A Theatre Review… Kinda

I have been lucky enough to watch exactly half of the performances of A Doll’s House by Auckland Theatre Company.  It is an adaptation by Emily Perkins of the Ibsen original.  Set in contemporary New Zealand, it is the story of Nora, the cheerful half of an off-grid, sugar free, anti-capitalist couple.  Led by the principled Theo (Nora’s husband), they strive for the picture perfect eco-friendly life with their adorable twins, Billy and Bee.

The play is all about Nora, the ‘doll’ of the play’s title.   Boxed in by her life and the ideals they aspire to, Nora searches for ways to please everyone in her world.  She tries desperately, within her means, to effect damage control as the pressures build. All the while scrambling to maintain the facade she has built to make it all appear okay.

Nora is a complex character and it is easy to feel as the play progresses that there is a lot more to her personal story than is being revealed.  It’s clear that she is fighting her battles on her own personal front too; the presence of a more animalistic force is felt as the scenes change, starkly contrasting, yet each building on the tension, until finally, she cracks.  “Who, even, are you?” her husband asks her as their world begins to unravel.  Nora begins to see in that moment.  She is less, and more, than she ever thought possible.

Emily Perkins, herself a contemporary New Zealand woman and mother, has drawn all the shades of Nora so beautifully.  I confess that I have sat in the audience watching Laurel Devenie’s performance of Nora and felt the tears welling up in response to her struggle. She is a woman of my generation. Someone who strives to find the fine balance between sense of self, work, spousal responsibility and motherhood.  Ultimately, it is beyond her reach.  There is no happy ending for this ‘inspiration board’ couple.  As the play reaches it’s final crescendo, she leaves it all behind. Their ‘sustainable’ lifestyle is ultimately, not.

I’ve seen this play so many times because my seven year old son is one of the young actors who plays Billy, Nora’s son. The fact that Nora is loving my son as her own absolutely adds to the poignancy of the play for me. I feel it personally, that mother struggle. My heart is hers as she grapples with the contrast between the frustrations of motherhood and the beauty of her children’s newness. I feel connected to the performance because her arms are cradling a child I love so much. My heart aches anew every time I watch her leave him.

It is such a privilege to see a play evolve across a season.  Laurel Devenie’s performance is an absolute standout, particularly the last scene. The whole cast approach Emily Perkin’s adaptation with sensitivity and feeling. I have enjoyed watching the play each and every time, a feat that would be hard to match with many theatre productions.

And the kids.  Alongside the talented Madeleine Walker (that girl is going to be famous!), my Zed has been able to basically play himself.  A typical little boy; annoying his sister, making noise, wreaking havoc and being a sweet, skinny, vulnerable child. I am impressed with his commitment to the significant hours this play requires.  His enthusiasm for an audience and the joy on his face as the applause washes over him fills my heart with happiness.  It’s a beautiful thing to see your kid doing the thing that lights them up.

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Thank you Liz Baldwin-Featherstone, for putting Zed forward for the audition back in April.  Thank you Auckland Theatre Company, for putting on a play that has been such a joy to watch, over and over and over again.  Thank you for nurturing my son’s acting interests and caring for his needs so beautifully across the season, you are all outstanding people (especially you, Virginia Frankovich!) …he has loved the experience of playing Billy very much.  What a cool gig, to play around in a pit of pandas!

And thank you Zed, for reminding me every time, why mothering you is worth all the personal doubts and identity crises, worth all the struggles that every woman faces who chooses to be a mother. I promise you that I will never leave you.  Not because women leaving their children is a social taboo, but because I want to stay.

Being your Mum is one of the most useful things I have ever done. You’re stuck with me, babe.

7 thoughts on ““Who, ARE you?” Emily Perkins Doll’s House”

  1. Aww Rach if this piece of writing makes me cry, imagine me sitting alongside you watching the play this week! I can’t wait. So proud of you both for the commitment this amazing play has been. xx Happy Mother’s Day!

  2. Very much so Rach! Your young man is a star. A deeply moving play where you find yourself questioning what you’re all about. Thank you so much for the opportunity to see it xx

    1. He was so thrilled to have you there Tracey! I know he will always treasure the memory that you and Catherine came. 🙂 Sorry the play was so grim, but I agree, it is moving. It’s good to question things sometimes, especially when the answers are good ones!

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