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Wednesday, February 26, 2014

In Conversation with Carrie Cracknell

Young Vic artistic director David Lan talks with director Carrie Cracknell about A Doll’s House.

David Lan: Why does A Doll’s House resonate now?

Carrie Cracknell: Nora’s story is uniquely placed to explore the intricacies of marriage—the way in which people play roles with each other, the way in which men and women lie to each other, and the sort of multi-faceted, multi-layered construction that a marriage can become over a lifetime. This opens out a series of questions about progress, specifically in relation to gender politics, and about how far we think women have come. For me as a director, it provokes a series of questions about whether we’ve come as far as we like to think we have.

DL: How far do we like to think we’ve come?

CC: A great number of women in this country believe that there is no longer a need for feminism because it feels as though as Western, educated, liberated women, they are able to have everything they want, everything they need. But in fact in many areas we are actually moving away from an equality in gender politics, towards a world in which women are more sexualized than they’ve ever been. The idea of the woman as a person who is perceived through how she looks, whose power is related to how she looks, is more prevalent than it’s ever been—and that’s at the heart of Ibsen’s play and Nora’s entrapment.

DL: So, at the time that the play was written, the structure of marriage created a world in which many women were deluded about the reality of their lives?

CC: Yes.

DL: And now you feel that women who think feminism is unnecessary are also deluded about their lives?

CC: In the last few generations the experience of many women has shifted at breakneck speed.
We’ve moved from a time when a woman couldn’t have a credit card without her husband signing for it, a woman had fewer rights to education than men, a woman couldn’t vote—all of these landmark shifts, which happened in very recent history, make us feel as if we’re on a journey towards equality.
However, the legacy of thousands of years of history remains embedded in the way men and women see each other—how our roles are perceived, how we understand what it means to be a mother and a father, the way we understand biology, what’s inherently male and what’s inherently female, which skill sets if any are inherently male or female—all of these things are framed by our historic understandings of men and women. This is a time in which we’re trying to break open those deep-rooted structures of belief about how men and women interact and what their roles are in the world. It’s in no way resolved. Progress results in more questions and difficulties and tensions. I think that is what makes A Doll’s House a play to go back to—because it provokes questions from a particular time which reflect back on the big issues we’re still tackling.

Hattie Morahan and Dominic Rowan in A Doll's House; Photo: Johan Persson

DL: One of the reasons I love Ibsen’s plays is that when you see a good production, you feel that he’s hacking away at the deep foundations of the way we live, that his criticism is deep and that he doesn’t suggest any way out. When Nora leaves, she leaves her children. Ibsen has no
solution to the dilemma of a woman trapped within a repressive system. So the only solution seems to be to break it all down. Is that right?

CC: The end of the play holds no sense of triumph. It feels to me like the beginning of an unraveling —the unraveling of a series of lives. It’s specifically the unraveling of the children’s lives. There is a deep wound right at the heart of those final beats of the play. My hopes for Nora are not great. She heads into a world which we know is freezing and tough and uninhabitable; into a world dominated by men. She has very little education. I have no idea what happens to her. So I think it’s important that the end of the play is a fissure—a shattering—rather than a resolution. There’s nothing resolved about that door slam; there’s nothing about that decision that makes her a heroine. All the protagonists are asked to reconsider the way that they live. There’s no answer—and that’s what makes it a great play.

DL: A theme running through all Ibsen seems to be the potential integrity of human beings. There seems to be some kind of obligation—a moral obligation—to find yourself and then to be true to yourself. And that, I think, he says is the most important obligation. Do you think that’s right?

CC: I think that is right. The dramatic power of his plays is generated by a tension between that idea
of finding the truest version of yourself that you can and what that destroys. How that intention plays
out alongside the idea of morality or responsibility or kindness or care. These things are often at odds
in his work.

Photo: Beowulf Sheehan
DL: In Peer Gynt, the protagonist spends his life looking for the real Peer Gynt. At the end he discovers there’s nothing there at all. He’s sacrificed all his relationships in order to be true to himself but he discovers there is nothing there to be true to. In Enemy of the People, the central character sacrifices everything and everybody in order to be true to the one discovery he feels is most critical to himself. In order to do that, he loses all touch with human beings, particularly with the people he’s closest to. Do you think that’s true of Nora as well?

Nora starts the play with what she feels is a firm grip on her sense of self and of reality. She comments on it endlessly: “Look at my wonderful life, it’s  comfortable, it’s calm, I have beautiful healthy children, I have a wonderful apartment.” Through a series of events, not least the arrival of the very provocative Mrs Linde, she starts to feel uneasy about her sense of self. So what we see depicted through the play is an unravelling of her certainty about who she is. In the final moments before she leaves, she is completely at a loss as to what is valuable and what matters in her life. Her only certainty is that she has to escape the thing she has trapped herself in, in order to try to begin to understand who it is that she might be.

This interview was originally published in the Young Vic's program for A Doll's House.

A Doll's House runs through Sunday, March 16 at the BAM Harvey Theater.

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