If I haven’t mentioned it before, let me say it now… I love the Donmar. Not just because of its original and often groundbreaking productions, but the vibe of the place itself. It’s like watching a play in a classier, upscale version of your primary school gym hall.
Some of the biggest names in theatre, film or television will perform in a setting so intimate you can see the cracks in their greasepaint and the sweatmarks on their dresses. A few months ago I saw a fantastically raw production of Piaf with Elena Roger and this Saturday gone it was Gillian Anderson’s turn to wow me.
Happily, my original TV girlfriend did not disappoint. One thing we remarked on at the interval is that although she’ll forever be known for the X-Files, as the attendant there-but-for-the-Grace-of-God Society proved, she has the poise and discipline of a quite marvellous stage actress. I’ve always thought the best performances I’ve seen have been like watching someone try to cross a canyon on a tightrope: they weave hapharzardly from charming to irritating, never falling into one or the other, always keeping you enthralled.
Nora isn’t perhaps the most likeable character in literature, but she is sympathetic. You root for her to save her marriage in one moment, the next you’re cheering her sad but clinical decision to end it. Like the great heroines, she is as strong as she is weak, locked in a continual battle between what she is, what she was, and what she ought to be. When the entire theatre is hanging on your every word, you must be doing something right, so brava Ms Anderson.
The rest of the cast was actually quite enticing from the programme – Christopher Eccleston being the only thing I’ve ever liked about Doctor Who, Toby Stephens a magnificent actor who used to rehearse his sword-fighting in leather trousers every night when I worked Front of House at the Haymarket. While the former disappointed with his shouty acting and awkward stage presence, the son of Maggie Smith did the family dynasty proud. At the play’s dénouement, I felt compelled to look away from his raw tears, but only because they were so painful that they were too close to real. It takes a lot to make me do that, and his turn as the favour-seeking politician was the perfect counterpoint to Nora’s moral journey from start to finish.
The supporting cast were capable, and even the child actors managed to stay on the right side of grating. A restrained but beautiful production, and thankfully, the perfect birthday present.
A Doll’s House plays at the Donmar Warehouse, London until Juy 18th