Review: WIFE (London, England)

by Lynn on July 7, 2019

in The Passionate Playgoer

At Kiln Theatre (Formerly The Tricycle).

Written by Samuel Adamson

Directed by Indhu Rubasingham

Designed by Richard Kent

Lighting by Guy Hoare

Sound by Alexander Caplen

Composed by David Shrubsole

Cast: Richard Cant

Karen Fishwick

Pamela Hardman

Joshua James

Calam Lynch

Sirina Saba

Samuel Adamson re-imagines Ibsen’s 1879 classic of A Doll’s House as it pertains to various modern applications of three different couples.

It begins in 1959. Suzannah (an intriguing Sirine Saba) and Peter (Richard Cant) are playing in a traditional production of A Doll’s House. She is playing Nora and Peter is playing her husband, Torvald. It’s the scene where Nora tells him why she is leaving him, when he didn’t give her the miracle she was looking for—that he would take the blame for her forgery. And so she leaves ‘slamming’ the door-a slam heard around the world, as it’s been described. Who says she slammed the door? Really? Perhaps it was a big door and the closing sounded like a slam. Nora doesn’t strike me as a woman who slams anything. And why slam it. She’s not angry. She’s disappointed. Anyone out there know Norwegian and can look up the play in the original language and describe what it says? Of course the original reviews were written by men, so perhaps that’s where the idea comes from. In any case, I’m anxious to know that the stage direction really says.

After the performance, Suzannah is visited by a couple: Daisy (Karen Fishwick) and Robert (Joshua James). Daisy is all gush.  Robert is barely interested. He finally explodes. He hated the play because he feels that Nora has everything including a dutiful husband. He completely ignores why she did what she did and why she feels she has to leave.

What Robert doesn’t know is that Daisy and Suzannah know each other better than just they let on. They met at a garden party and then formed a relationship. They have been lovers for a long time. And Daisy is pregnant by Robert and not at all happy about it.  In this iteration the idea of marriage, relationships, society’s conventions and other attitudes are explored. Fascinating. Here we have the wounded husband who can’t see passed his own blinkered attitudes.

Skip to 1988. Ivor at 28 years old (Joshua James) and Eric—much younger—(Calam Lynch) are gay lovers having a pint in a straight pub after seeing a Norweigen production of A Doll’s House. They are reveling in their sensual connection and simulate having sex there. Ivor is in his element flinging insults to the straight clientele. Ivor and Eric talk about their lives and how society has closed-minded ideas about gay life. Here Samuel Adamson’s dialogue wizzes through the air. It bristles and pops. It’s blazing with colour and expression. It’s delivered by Ivor (Joshua James) with glee, passion and cynicism.

I don’t believe one word of it. Samuel Adamson is stretching a point when he is trying to equate society’s attitudes towards gays as an iteration of society’s attitudes towards women and marriage from the point of view of A Doll’s House. Gays must go underground to live their lives. A woman in Ibsen’s day and even after could not do that that easily. Nope, I don’t believe a word of it here.

The last iteration is 2019 and the various stories are connected. A young woman, Clare (Karen Fishwick) is about to be married but needs to find out about her father who moved to Australia when her parents’ marriage broke up. Clare is connected to the first story (1959).   Her father had an intense relationship in Australia with Ivor (from the second story). Ivor is now 58 (Richard  Cant). Clare needs to know about her father—the missing part of her life. Ivor says he doesn’t know what she is talking about. Ivor is now in a relationship with a twenty-something smart-mouth named Cas (Calam Lynch). They’ve gotten married but not in the conventional way. Cas has that caustic speech that sprays contempt on everything, especially Clare. Finding the truth of this third part was perhaps the most satisfying. There are  comments from the caustic Cas about how far women have come in society but not necessarily gays. Clare sets that misguided idea right.

The acting to a person is terrific Each actor negotiations the different time periods with confidence and commitment. Indhu Rubasingham has directed this with flare, accomplishment, an eye to the vivid image and a sensitivity in establishing the various relationships and their hidden meanings. Just wonderful work.

Samuel Adamson attempts to tackle huge ideas of society and gender issues, man-woman relationships and how society treats women, men and same sex relationships as seen from the point of new of Ibsen’s A Doll’s House.  All worthy ideas. But he hasn’t written a strong enough or clear enough defense. Nor has he proven his point.

 I think Lucas Hnath’s wonderful play, A Doll’s House, Part II does a much better job of exploring society’s attitudes towards women when he has Nora come back after 15 years of success, for a very serious reason. No doubt about it, Ibsen has created one bracing play that has intrigued playwrights (men) for years. Now it’s time for a woman to have a go at the play. Concerns aside, I was really glad to see this one.

Note: The Tricycle Theatre has gone through ‘extensive’ renovations—the seating is now individual and not padded benches and there might be cosmetic touches and a bigger bathroom, but it looks the same. Then when that was finished the name was changed to Kiln Theatre in honour of its new life. Their mission statement is interesting: “Make theatre for everyone. Our doors are open to all. We produce world-class theatre that provokes, entertains, and reflects our exceptionally diverse society in Brent (a section of north London) and beyond. For this first season after re-opening our building we have over 10,000 ticket priced at £12.50 or less and we are offering 2,000 free tickets to people and communities who may have never been to a theatre before.

Kiln Theatre encourages artists of all ages and backgrounds. Our ambitious Creative Learning programme aims to champion the imagination, aspiration and potential of the Brent community young and old.”

All worthy. But they have the same problem as most other theatres that can’t attract a diverse audience. My audience for this was predominantly white except for about three people of colour. And the cast was white too. Attracting a diverse audience continues to challenge theatres.

Produced by Kiln Theatre

Closes: July 6, 2019.

Running Time: two hours, 15 minutes, approx.


Leave a Comment

Respectful comments are accepted on this site as long as they are accompanied by a verifiable name and a verifiable e-mail address. Posts that are slanderous, libelous or personally derogatory will not be approved.