A Doll's House by Henrik Ibsen, adapted by Tanika Gupta

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Drama on 3 on BBC Radio 3

BBC Radio 3, 7 October 2012
Tanika Gupta's adaptation resituated the action in Calcutta in 1879: Nora became Niru (Indira Varma), an Indian woman who had converted to Christianity by marrying Tom (Toby Stephens), an Englishman working for the colonial administration. In thematic terms this alteration worked extremely well: Tom had an unswerving belief in English superiority; they were the only race suitably qualified to govern the "heathen" Indian population (his term). Although he had contracted a cross-cultural marriage, he had forced Nira to change religion in an attempt to "civilize" her. For the most part Nira was content to play her role as subaltern - that is, until the end of the play, when she discovered (perhaps for the first time), that she had been merely playing at being a colonial wife and mother by adopting British social and religious rituals.  The only way she could discover her identity as an independent woman was to branch out and forge a life for herself, just like Mrs. Lahin (Shaheen Khan) (Christine Linde in Ibsen's text).
As Tom, Stephens exuded a kind of supercilious (and superficial) authority who treated his wife as an exotic plaything. Many of his utterances were accompanied either by a short laugh or a snort of derision; as the family breadwinner, he believed that he could behave as he chose.  However this proved nothing more than a facade; when Niru left him, he broke down in tears and cried like a baby. By contrast Niru acquired a new-found strength through her decision; having spent most of the previous ninety minutes undergoing a series of emotional crises, her voice now acquired a quiet authority.  Try as her husband might, he would never persuade her to change her mind.
Nadia Molinari's production made ingenious use of music and sound to reinforce the play's principal themes.  Several scenes concluded with a few doleful bars played by tabla maestro Shahbaz Hussain, suggesting doom; try as she might, Nira could never avoid confronting the consequences of her action.  When she danced at the party, the music played faster and faster, emphasizing her desperation.  However the mood changed completely by the end of the production, when the click of a latch signalled Nira's exit from the family home.  Instead of listening to her husband, or the children playing, she now heard - perhaps for the first time - the sound of Calcutta's streets, teeming with people and carts. Her new life had begun.
This was a riveting revival of Ibsen's classic play, shedding light on British colonial history as well as focusing on gender relationships.