The stress of family   life beautifully captured in Brett Boardman's photograph
The stress of family life beautifully captured in Brett Boardman’s photograph

Setting:  The setting for Act 1 was a domestic home suggested by an open house frame which clearly delineated rooms without walls.  The cast were on stage reading a bedtime story to the children and working at the table when the audience entered.

The stage was stripped to black brick and cement and black floor, the thin steel rods of the structure cleverly placed to maximise the use of the playing space.  One audience member in the front row with long legs clearly had his feet in the living room. The doors had a steel lintel at 2m high which made the frame even easier to accept.  There was no fussy miming of doors even when a character came from the bathroom so the action flowed freely.  Having the children run around the space made the domesticity even more present and the disregard for the traditional facing of the audience by performers also reinforced this.

The audience seating is in 3 wedges at Belvoir.  The hallway of the house faced the Audience left wedge.  On the OP side were kitchen down (benchtop, sink, cupboards, stool), dining room mid (table and chairs) and bedroom up (bed and side tables).  At the US of the hallway was the bathroom with toilet and double sink.  On the P side of the hallway was the lounge room down (sofa, toys, tub style chair facing US) and the kids room up (bunk bed).

 Act 2: presented a much more claustrophobic scene, delineating a small flat with a galley kitchen (sink, benchtops and a free standing fridge) and living room with a fold out bed and extra chair facing US and coffee table.  This time the set was aligned to the centre wedge of audience.   The ten minutes unfolding and making up of the bed was enjoyed by the audience and many people around the audience had a little chat about it.  The lady next to me was asleep by then and the couple behind me had been talking loudly about being bored.  So this piece of business gave them a new topic.

I think the uprights, even though they were thin, would have affected the view of most audience at some time.  Unfortunately for me, it was the scene in the bedroom when Nora is about to slam the door of the doll’s house.

Lighting:   The final lines of the play referred to darkness and for mine, that certainly was a theme.  It was very dim.  I thought it was just me but when there were important events in Act 1, I could see people leaning forward to peer into the action.  There were very few lanterns front of house and when cast moved DS the bottom of their face disappeared.  I didn’t actually recognise Damien Ryan until he threw his head up to say “God”.  It was only time his face was lit clearly.  Additionally, the emotional hit of the girl’s little black shoes was completely lost.  Moody might have been the imperative but it didn’t work for me or my companions.  One of our party thought it might have been to avoid possible shadows from the set struts.

Barndoored fresnels and par cans provided the back lighting in the house but even so the Audience R front rows were lit up in Act 1.  The conventional lanterns were on low intensity and very yellow especially for the night scenes.  There were no colour changes, no blues for night etc just different intensity levels.  There were a couple of white LEDs for extra depth.  And some silk or frost on the perch pars.

There was well timed area lighting for the home.  Well timed also, was the DBO just before Act 1 Sc2.  It served to inform the audience that something had changed, even though lights up revealed the same scene.  Also well operated, was the gradual fade up of intensity leading to the denouement of Act 2.

There were practical lamps for bedroom, practical reading lights for the bunks and a living room lamp in the flat.

Audio:  In Act 1 there was a tinkling, glockenspiel sound which was so close to my family’s Grandfather clock that I knew it was about time passing.  It was echoed in an alarm sound and the landline ring and a mobile message tone in Act 2.

 This light sound was supplement by an occasional bassy, reverbed, thumping which was more pronounced at the end of the Act and did not reoccur in Act 2. At one stage, the children were both using earphones so that the child cast were not exposed to the porn discussion, then, as a neat segue into the next scene, the daughter began dancing.  At this time, the sound effect changed to thump in time to the child’s moves.  The sound designer also resisted letting the audience in on what Nora was dancing to, but the kids knew. The sparse SFX were really well placed and deeply evocative.

It’s not often I get into a philosophical debate at interval about a Sound Effect.  I thought it was the sound of Nora being metaphorically stomped and beaten down by Torvald. My companion believed it was a rumbling precursor to the shaking of the marriage foundations.  But he’s a therapist!

NORA plays upstairs at Belvoir Street until the 14th September.

This review was first published in Judith Greenaway’s blog-