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MTC Talks | Sarah Goodes on A Doll's House, Part 2

By Sarah Corridon

MTC Associate Director Sarah Goodes spoke to Sarah Corridon as part of our MTC Talks podcast series.

Below is a transcript of their conversation

SC: In 1879, Nora Helmer handed her husband her keys and left home, slamming the door behind her, but what ever happened to this famous literary figure from Henrik Ibsen’s A Doll’s House? I am Sarah Corridon and here is MTC Associate Director Sarah Goodes talking about Lucas Hnath’s Broadway smash hit, A Doll’s House, Part 2.

SC: My very first question goes back to Henrik Ibsen’s original play A Doll’s House, when did you first see that play or come into contact with that script?

SG: Well interestingly, I first saw that play, here, at MTC back in 1998 with Rachel Griffiths in the main part, in the role of Nora. It was wonderful. I think it was on at the Fairfax. I was living down in Melbourne studying at VCA doing the directing course. I remember the production vividly; she [Griffiths] was incredible in that main role. When Brett told me about the play, I was really excited because I’d just moved down to Melbourne to join MTC and I thought it was a great coming together of storytelling.

SC: Amazing! A bit of a full circle experience for you. The play, A Doll’s House, Part 2, is sort of a coda to the original. Lucas Hnath, the playwright, draws some conclusions about what these characters have done and been up to in the interim. It’s set at the end of the 19th century but the language is modern and Hnath has contemporised a lot of their mannerisms and behaviours. Can you tell us a bit about how you will be approaching this with your direction?

SG: Well, it’s interesting because the play starts with the great knock on the door. The original ends with the slamming of the door and this one starts with the knocking on the door. He [Hnath] indicated that it’s roughly period but we imagine that Nora will come in, in a period costume because how she looks is a really important indicator of how well she’s done in those 15 years. The modernising of the language slowly evolves. It doesn’t start with a jar. We’ve been talking a lot about how the journey of the play as a whole is a peeling away of layers. I think with that the language becomes more and more modern as the play goes on. It’s very, very beautifully written, he’s written it … I keep using the word, the language is very of the earth. It’s very muscular. It’s very rhythmical. The rhythm inside it and the way it’s laid out on the page is very much about rhythm. Having incredible actors tackle that language is something we’re going to play with on the floor but I think they’re going to love playing with that language.

SC: Speaking of actors, you have Marta Dusseldorp in the lead role. Can you tell us a little bit about your cast and what you’re looking forward to about working with them?

SG: I’ve always wanted to work with Marta. I think she’s an incredible performer and we actually know each other from years ago when we lived around the corner from each other when she was still at the STC acting company. I’d seen her in quite a few shows there, particularly, War of the Roses, which Benedict Andrews directed. She has this incredible muscularity in her performance. She’s very strong, she’s very intelligent and fearless on stage. She’s also very funny. In her TV roles, people would know her from Janet King and A Place to Call Home she’s quite often cast in high status [roles] as characters, who are journalists or judges but I’ve seen her on stage make me laugh harder than I have before. I’m really looking forward to finding the comedy in this with her and being able to play with an incredible text with great actors. Greg Stone, I haven’t worked with before but I’ve heard so much about him and think he’s such a generous and beautiful performer. I think the two of them, together, will be incredible!

SC: Fantastic! I have a bit more of a political question for you. Ibsen wrote this play in 1879, before the two waves of feminism of the 20th century. It was written at a time when leaving your children was more or less unheard of, but there’s still a great gender disparity when it comes to leaving children in marriage breakdowns in 2017. It’s seemingly less common for women to leave their children in a marriage. Why do you think this is and do you think Nora has something to say about this?

SG: I don’t think she has something to say about it directly. I don’t think the playwright does either. I don’t think he’s [Hnath] consciously gone to write a feminist play about feminism. Of course, it is about it, it can’t not be about it. What I love about the character of Nora is that everyone I remember seeing, when I saw it in 1998 … your assumption was always that she would walk out that door to inevitable death and what he’s [Hnath] very cleverly done is made her very successful. All of the things that we would assume happened to her didn’t happen to her and she actually won. She leaves, she becomes a very successful writer, earns a lot of money, has the independence, lives this dream that women had to fight for a very long time to achieve. In her mind, at the beginning of the play, made a very clear decision that she left the children and part of that was a very difficult decision that she had to make but she didn’t look back on it. She had to. She did the only thing that was really an option for her at that time. Therefore, she doesn’t allow herself the sentimental opportunity to think about it at all or to feel sorry for her or for them. She’s made the decision and she’s dealing with the consequences of that decision. What she believes is that they won’t want to have anything to do with her because she had nothing to do with them.

It would be giving it away if we talked about what happens in the play but I think she’s made a decision and she stands by it. I think it’s a really interesting topic about women leaving their children. I’ve been in and around it with quite a few other plays and I, at one point, came to the conclusion that maybe there are some stories that we don’t want to tell. One of them is, we don’t really like telling the story of mothers leaving their children because we all had mothers, we all want a mother and if we have told them it’s been like Sophie’s Choice, where she couldn’t decide between the two so she left both of them. I guess, generally, it’s very hard to empathise with a female character, who leaves her children because people judge her. They still do today as much as they did back then.

Rehearsal photography by Deryk McAlpin

A Doll’s House, Part 2 plays at Southbank Theatre from 11 August 2018.

Published on 15 September 2017

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