When you think of a theatrical sequel, what's the first thing that comes to your mind? If the answer, like me, is Love Never Dies, I apologise for putting that image in your head. While we wait for Mamma Mia: Here We Go Again to hit the stage, we can enjoy the sequel to the seminal classic A Doll's House, currently enjoying a limited run at London's Donmar Warehouse.
The original was written by Henrik Ibsen in 1879 so it will come as no surprise that 2017's second part is written by someone else entirely. You don't have to have seen the original to enjoy this, but to get you up to speed, the original play culminates with Nora Helmer, a wife and mother of three, leaving her family behind as she walks out their home. This has led to theories about what she did with her life next, with other playwrights attempting alternate endings and their own sequels.
This version, written by Lucas Hnath, begins with Nora returning to the home she left behind 15 years later. Over the course of a non-stop 90 minutes, we discover the new life she has made for herself, and the reason she returns as her past life catches up with her. Interacting with members of her family, what transpires is a battle between her old life and new as Nora desperately finds a way for them to co-exist with as little trouble as possible.
The play is led by the wonderful Noma Dumezweni, no stranger to sequels having starred as Hermione in Harry Potter and the Cursed Child Parts I and II and making a welcome return to the West End stage after wowing audiences on Broadway. A formidable performer, it is clear to see why Noma is such a well regarded and award-winning actress. Watching her do what she does best in an intimate space felt incredibly special as she expertly delivered a fairly restrained and understated performance. Perhaps a colder character on the surface, Noma uncovered more complexities and depth as the layers unravelled.
Noma is joined by Brian F. O’Byrne as Torvald. Together, the pair display the complications of a married and seemingly divorced couple, as they reckon with their mixed feelings for each other while trying not to give in to the others demands. Patricia Allison oozes charisma as Nora’s daughter Emmy, who grew up never knewing her mother. Immediately confident and sure of herself, she ensures Nora isn’t the only alpha female on this stage, even attempting to control the narrative herself later on.
The cast is completed by June Watson who gives a standout turn as Anna Marie, who has had to look after Nora’s family following her departure. Older and tired, she is fabulous in her no-nonsense approach, telling Nora what she thinks of her and with the kind of foul mouth that even Catherine Tate’s Nan character would say was a bit excessive.
Performed completely in the round, with the audience on all four sides, you are greeted by a huge house in the middle of the stage. Immediately worried about a restricted view, this is thankfully raised to reveal a simple stage, adorned with only several chairs, designed by Rae Smith. Directed by James MacDonald, the actors perform on every inch of that stage to every audience member, creating a truly intimate and even immersive at times feel.
As for the writing itself, this is perhaps the weakest aspect of the play. Not bad by any stretch, but not exactly memorable either. While the dialogue in itself is decent and full of funny one-liners, it never quite resonates in the way you would hope, leaving you feeling disappointingly underwhelmed by the whole thing. Some pacing problems too mean it can be slightly slow at times. Watching Nora interact with her former family members one on one is an interesting prospect and one that definitely grabs your attention, but it doesn’t seem to do more than that. There is this feeling of it never quite living up to its full potential, and the lack of feeling within yourself at this dialogue is an unfortunate effect of this.
An admirable attempt on following up a classic, A Dolls House, Part 2 is full of fantastic acting from 4 incredible actors, Noma in particular who is always a delight to watch. Decent writing and a great use of the space makes this a good night at the theatre, though perhaps lacking in the necessary extra to really elevate this to something special.
A Doll's House, Part 2 plays at Dinmar Warehouse until August 6th. Tickets from https://www.donmarwarehouse.com/
Photos by Marc Brenner