After the House Lights

Misunderstood modern classic A Doll’s House at Walterdale Theatre

Leslie Caffaro, Marsha Amanova, Nicole English, Dave Wolkowski, Tim Marriott, and Dale Wilson in A Doll's House. Set by Joan Heys Hawkins, Costume Design by Geri Dittrich and Lighting design by Richard Hatfield. Photo credit: Kristen Finlay.


It’s 1879 in a Norweigan town. Nora Helmer has navigated a situation where she was damned if she did, damned if she didn’t the best she can, and now has to navigate the fall out of her decision to forge her father’s signature on a loan she took out so her and her husband could travel to Italy to improve his health. Her husband assumed she received the money from her father, while it was actually a loan she has been secretly working to pay off. Meanwhile, Nils Krogstad, a desperate single father, has been caught having forged someone’s name and begs Nora to help him keep his job under Nora’s husband, threatening to blackmail her

Meanwhile, Nils Krogstad, a desperate single father, has been caught having forged someone’s name and begs Nora to help him keep his job under Nora’s husband, threatening to blackmail her by telling her husband how she obtained the money that allowed them to travel to Italy.

While both characters have committed the same crime, one of these characters is judged less harshly than the other. Henrik Ibsen’s A Doll’s House, playing at Walterdale Theatre October 11 – 21 forces audiences to examine their value judgements and potentially face their own hypocrisy. It’s a play Director Alex Hawkins says is “a well-known, but often misunderstood, modern classic play by one of theatre history’s greatest playwrights.”

Nicole English, who plays A Doll’s House‘s female protagonist, Nora Helmer, says, “At first, Nora appears to be a silly, flighty, materialistic sort of person. Kind of childish, or child-like, but she’s a very strong, very intelligent woman that winds up discovering her strength in the crisis she winds up dealing with… It’s one bad thing after another happening to this poor woman who’s trying not to go insane. In all of that, starting to find herself, realizing that it is not the life she wants and that she needs to find herself.”

“She does this great thing for her husband that she’s kept hidden all these years. She’s desperately trying to have him not find out because it would basically shatter the world they have. In trying to prevent him from finding out, there are all kinds of things that other people reveal that don’t sit well with her and that she doesn’t like being treated that way. The play has this reputation of being a bit of a feminist play and even from the first time I read it, to me, it wasn’t about that. It was about more like human rights or treating people equally as human beings.”

Nicole says throughout the play, Nora awakens and finds that she is not happy in her life or her marriage – something that was controversial to express when the play was written and produced in the late 1800s.  “I find it really extraordinary that it was allowed to be performed during the time it was written. It must have been so shocking. I’d love to time travel and watch that original play and see how the men and women of the time reacted… [In the play] initially there are moments where something doesn’t feel right to Nora about how she’s being treated, but she doesn’t necessarily know what it is. I think after the climax of the play, she starts to put together that it isn’t what she wants and she hasn’t spoken up or used her voice. In the final part of the play, she’s finding her voice. It’s a bit of, ‘I don’t want this anymore, but I don’t necessarily know what I want. I don’t know what my opinions are on this, but I know they’re not what yours are or what society’s are and I have to go on a journey of self-discovery and find myself and find out what I agree with in life and what I don’t.’ ”

Ultimately, A Doll’s House is an exploration of gender roles in society at large and in relationships as well as an examination of who is judged harshly or leniently by society and the value systems that are in place to encourage those judgements.

A Doll’s House plays at Walterdale Theatre October 11 – 21. Tickets are $18 – $20 from Tix on the Square or at the door. On Thursday, October 12, tickets will be two-for-one. On Tuesday, October 17, tickets will be pay-what-you-can at the door.