This was written last year :

In mid rehearsal for Steff Smith’s radical version of Doll’s house, set in three periods at once,1918,1968 and 2018 with three  actresses playing Nora. Collaborating with Director Elizabeth Freestone, Movement director E J Boyle, Lighting design Lee Curran, Composition MJ Mccarthy.

The production will be at the Tramway as part of the Citizen’s women’s season, the stage is configured as a thrust (as it was for Cyrano last year) i know that the space has to work well from three sides, and so am free from perhaps creating a more conventional naturalistic space. In the play Nora remains in her home environment throughout and I want it to have a sense of homeliness however abstracted. The play explores both the comfort and confinement of a domestic space, how our need for love and approval within a domestic relationship can easily become a relationship based on control and lies. I also need to find a way that the actors can shift easily from naturalistic scenes to more choral moments and so started exploring a series of layered stages and framing ceiling elements . We looked at a range of images from each era to try and define what the world of each Nora might be. I also looked at various contemporary artists such as Rachel Whitread and Gordon Matta Clark ,whose exploration of space inspires me in very different ways. We also wanted to find a way to suggest the sense of the outside world, the frozen river and the sense of possibilities for Nora beyond the ‘haven’ of the home.

The three periods overlap, glitch and cross cut , sometimes in a moment so although I began by thinking there might be a way to indicate which period we are in through the design of the space it soon became clear that part of the power of the play is the layering of time and events in the same space. So the main living room had to be the centre of the world for all three Nora’s. We do have three different door frames in the space, which i am imagining might be used initially for each Nora’s entrance thereby defining that frame as a portal into their era, but that idea might be unnecessary or too prescriptive we will see how it develops in rehearsal .At time of writing we are experimenting with how clothes can help tell us which era we are in. This is complicated further as each actress plays a Nora and also a Christine in a different period, so i am searching for a look for each of them which is quite fluid in period and perhaps it will be the coats that characters wear to enter or leave the space that give us the strongest clue as to what period we are in. In the end I hope the effect will be a kaleidoscopic fracturing of the play  in which each era talks to the other and we can see how the different social mores of each time affect how Nora behaves and ultimately leads to three very different endings.

The play offers no easy answers, in many ways I am searching for a way to present the play that can have the playful freedom of a rehearsal room, adding just enough design elements to help with the narrative without forcing an interpretation on the piece. Through my sketches and initial models I was looking at how I might create an almost cubist layering of spaces and had matching floors and ceilings layered onto each other. In the end that felt too literal and also started asking questions of why all the action took place in the central space if it was defined as of a particular era, so i have now created a central square (almost like a boxing ring ) sitting on top of other layers which hopefully will allow a much more fluid use of the space with the actors able to rapidly enter or leave the main space or comment from the edges. Through rehearsal the actors have improvised a lot of the spaces that are referred to in the play but we never see such as the bank, pharmacy and have also created their own versions of the living room in each era. I think this will help inform a lot of their choices with a wider understanding of the worlds of this play and how characters interact in each era .

the production was big success in Glasgow and  has now transferred to the Young Vic

Nora by Steff Smith , Citizen’s Theatre 2019 , sketch design by Tom Piper. Directed by Elizabeth Freestone

Leave a Comment