Henrik Ibsen’s universally acclaimed A Doll’s House, an examination of society and its uneven power dynamics, is transposed to 1879 India in Tanika Gupta’s interpretation of this classic that Olivia Chakraborty has brought alive on the stage of Tower Theatre, Stoke Newington this week. Placing the traditional play in the context of British colonial rule in India, this production successfully explores and exposes attitudes ingrained in society, not only at the time but even to the present day.


The play follows main character Niru - Nora in the original - as she endeavours to save the reputation of her husband by risking her own. Watching Niru, the audience goes with her on a journey of realisation and self-discovery, from infantilisation and subjugation to self-empowerment and freedom. The storyline delicately reflects power relations with which different characters struggle, touching on issues of gender, class, religion and race in Calcutta in nineteenth-century India under British rule.


Chakraborty herself has a personal affiliation with Calcutta, where her parents are from and where the play is set, making for an authentic depiction of the setting which echoes the stories she listened to as she grew up. The use of costume, scenery and set are carefully used to complement the script, giving the audience an insight into the cultures and traditions of Calcutta.


Not limited to the visual, the pairing of these elements with an oscillation between traditionally ‘Indian’ music and dance and traditionally ‘British’ classical music to reflect the plot - as well as even the use of incense in one scene - creates an immersive and educational experience through appealing to the senses.


With an impressive set comes often complex scene changes, which although sometimes long were handled very well by the use of this time to spotlight characters in their transitions between scenes. This was an effective method of characterisation, where pensive lone characters, or pairs of characters in muted conversation, relied on body language and non-verbal acting abilities to reflect their thoughts. A strong cast ensured that we were allowed an important, and sometimes vulnerable, insight into their emotions.


A special mention must be given to Vaishnavi CG with respect to her outstanding portrayal of the protagonist Niru. Onstage for almost every scene, her delivery was faultless, and she managed to cultivate a believable and endearing main character with whom the audience cannot help but side. Her performance was complemented by a very talented group of actors - Arthur Davies’ well-crafted representation of Dr Rank provided much-needed laughter from the audience at times, while Janak Nirmal’s complex enactment of Das left the audience empathising with the sentiments he was grappling with, regardless of his villainous persona.


A combination of skilled direction, sensory immersion and well-cast, gifted actors led to a captivating, nuanced and culturally rich reimagination of A Doll’s House at the Tower Theatre. A gripping and thought-provoking piece, this is a commendable production of contrasts: how to fuse them together, how not to fuse them together, why we as a society created them, and what it means to eliminate them in the quest for equality.


A Doll’s House runs at Tower Theatre from 27th-30th September and 3rd-7th October at the Tower Theatre, Stoke Newington.


Review: Lucy Dyer         Photo: Jason Harris