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Theatre review: Doll’s House gets an electric rewire in Wife

‘Private agonies’: Karen Fishwick as Daisy and Sirine Saba as Suzannah PICTURE: MARC BRENNER

REVIEW

Wife

Kiln Theatre, London ★★★★✩

THE slamming door at the end of Ibsen’s 1879 game-changer A Doll’s House, signalling Nora Helmer walking out on her husband and children, so appalled the theatre establishment that for decades it insisted on rewriting the ending.

Alternative versions saw Nora staying with her husband and new, moralising sequels imagined her sheepish return to the family.

In this electric, meta-theatrical response to Ibsen’s play, Samuel Adamson uses a queer lens to beautifully subvert that repressive revisionist tradition, examining the toxic consequences of a wife not slamming that door across four connected generations.

It begins in 1959, in a dressing room to which freshly married Daisy has dragged her stuffy husband to meet Suzannah, the actress playing Nora in a new production of A Doll’s House. Then in 1988, the height of the Aids crisis and the year Section 28 was introduced, two gay men have an excoriating row in a pub. In 2019, a newly engaged doctor tracks down the man her father fell in love with as a teenager. And in 2042, a medical student tries to decode the secret message on a family heirloom that she only knows has something to do with Ibsen’s play.

Adamson’s writing is so full of life that each scenario is a play in itself, with his skilful plot echoes and fierce critique of marriage in both a gay and straight context teased out by Indhu Rubasingham’s tightly focused production. In a superb cast, Joshua James shines as a young Ivar, flaunting a combative, Day-Glo campness.

The private agonies of a more repressive era may feel part of a vanished history — but Wife brings them forward, terrifically engineering a modern-day reckoning.