ON TOM Piper’s brilliant set for Stef Smith’s thrilling new 21st century perspective on the story of Ibsen’s A Doll’s House, three doorframes stand between the domestic space and the outside world. For each door, there is a different version of Nora, the young wife and mother who, at the end of Ibsen’s play, famously walks through her front door and slams it, finishing the charade of the conventional marriage in which she was treated like a child and a plaything. In Smith’s vision – staged by the Citizens’ Theatre at Tramway – the first Nora, electrifyingly played by Anna Russell-Martin, is from the #metoo year of 2018, the second (Maryam Hamidi) from 1968, at the height of the sexual revolution, and the third (Molly Vevers) from 1918; yet on this dizzyingly brilliant two-hour journey through the arc of Ibsen’s story, driven by a subtly powerful musical score from Michael John McCarthy, the narrative passes between them with a strange and chilling ease, like the baton in some endlessly-repeating relay race of timeless female experience.
Nora - A Doll’s House, Tramway, Glasgow *****
The Taming of the Shrew, Tron Theatre, Glasgow ****
Scurvy Ridden Whale Men, Oran Mor, Glasgow ***
In all three cases, the financial deal at the centre of the plot works perfectly, ranging from a time when women could not even obtain credit in their own name, to an age of payday loans with repayment brutally enforced. And in all three cases, the men – the husband (Tim Barrow), the blackmailer (Michael Dylan), and the loving friend (Daniel Ward) – circle around Nora in the same familiar postures of objectification, idealisation and abuse; in a new vision of this mighty play that, in the hands of director Elizabeth Freestone, emerges as a beautiful and explosively significant piece of theatre about the whole story of gender politics since Nora’s door first slammed, and about the deep truth that that story is not nearly over yet.
There’s more brilliant feminist theatre at the Tron, this week, with the arrival from the Sherman Theatre, Cardiff, of Jo Clifford’s no-holds-barred musical version of The Taming Of The Shrew, a Tron-Sherman co-production in which all the male characters are imagined as women, and vice versa.
Set by designer Madeleine Girling in a rusty blood-red circular space like a small circus-ring or bear-pit, presented in cabaret style by the characters and actors themselves, and accompanied by a terrific score of songs and noise hatched up by sound designer Danny Krass and performer-musician Hannah Jarrett-Scott, this brilliantly inventive Shrew not only tackles the play’s fierce gender politics, but also celebrates the multiple layers of reality or unreality that Shakespeare adds to the action. What emerges, in Michael Fentiman’s fast-moving production, is a clever, rowdy and challenging queer take on the story, in which Scarlett Brookes’s bullying Petruchio frames herself as taking revenge for thousands of years of male mistreatment of women, while Matt Gavan’s “boy called Kate” ends up properly and even beautifully repentant for all the past evils and stupidities of male rule; it’s mind-blowing and sometimes confusing stuff, but as a trigger for debate about sex, gender and violence, it’s hard to imagine a more provocatively enjoyable show.
There are also some thoughts about gender politics rippling along in the script of The Scurvy Ridden Whale Men, Steven Dick’s latest Play, Pie And Pint lunchtime drama; but the truth is that the play’s central character, Mrs Humphrey, is made to carry so many different symbolic meanings, in the course of 50 minutes, that it’s finally difficult to tell whether she represents a woman, a murdering psychopath, a spirit of rational atheism, or the raging voice of nature itself.
After a disastrous winter during which many whaling men have died in the Arctic ice, Mrs Humphrey is playing host at her Stromness rooming-house to two survivors, a Captain called Neptune and a bible-thumping boy, Peter. They wish to return to the sea, she wishes to keep Neptune with her; but this potentially interesting battle of wills is constantly interrupted by needless long detours to the scene of the men’s Arctic disaster months earlier. Pete Collins’s production is lavishly cast, with the mighty Janette Foggo as Mrs Humphreys, and Billy Mack as Neptune. Rarely, though, can such a powerful cast have tangled with a play so full of competing ideas and themes; and so apparently unable – as yet – to knock them into legible shape. - JOYCE MCMILLAN
Nora until 6 April; The Taming Of The Shrew until 30 March; Scurvy Ridden Whale Men, final performance today