Interior designs

30th January 1998 at 00:00
A DOLL'S HOUSE. Harrogate Theatre.

We would love to wrongfoot the audience into thinking they were about to see an utterly charming social comedy, or a Feydeau farce", says designer Diana Seymour. "Opening with an enchanting, jolly, young woman in a perfect family Christmas setting, gradually it begins to unpeel. Nora Helmer will be dressed beautifully, like Anna Karenina - but when she has completed her emotional journey her clothing will be practical, almost austere."

Harrogate Theatre's forthcoming production of Ibsen's A Doll's House will have a sumptuous set, inspired by the paintings of the Swedish painter Carl Larsson. The Helmer home will look warm and cosy and difficult to leave, with the harsh, encroaching landscape beyond the house seen in contrast. It is into this world that Nora goes, in the final moments, to begin her independent life.

Director Penny Cherns is keen to put Ibsen's attack on the hypocrisy within seemingly happy marriages very firmly in its period; there will be no late 20th century ideas of feminism creeping in.

"Ibsen was a Suffragist, but not a champion of women's rights. I don't think Nora is a feminist statement, I don't think her husband Torvald has any understanding that he is suppressing female rights. I want to place characters very firmly in their socio-political context so that we can totally understand the mental parameters within which they are making decisions. Nora has a need to realise herself for her own individualistic reasons. It's self-actualisation rather than a knowledge that she's breaking some kind of gender role. Nora needs to know who she is, to be true to herself."

The relationship between Torvald and Nora will look as if it has been working - loving and happy within its own guidelines. Not until one partner makes a sudden shift in consciousness is the Helmer family apple cart upset.

"I am interested in money and the hypocrisy about money", says Penny Cherns. "Having to keep up appearances when you don't have money. The effect that the choices made about money will have on a character's actions. The fact that Krogstad, the lawyer, makes a choice to survive that reverberates on everybody else, and it's through his choice that Nora is thrown into an understanding of where she stands. What men can do with money and what women can do with money somehow seem to be entirely different."

They are both keenly interested in audience reactions. Diana Seymour recalls the first time she saw A Doll's House on stage - a couple got up and walked out, but not because the production was poor.

"They were clearly going to get into the car and start to dismantle their relationship, saying things they hadn't said to each other for 10 or 15 years. The man was looking absolutely white and the woman had a very odd glint in her eye . . . I often wonder what happened."

From February 20 to March 7Tel: 01423 502116

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