The Lady of the House: Hattie Morahan Reflects on Role of A Doll's House's Nora for Modern-Day Audiences

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20 Feb 2014

Hattie Morahan
Hattie Morahan
Photo by Johan Persson

Award-winning actress Hattie Morahan chats with about portraying Nora in Henrik Ibsen's A Doll's House at Brooklyn Academy of music.


"I'm just interested in things that move me and make me think, make me laugh," Hattie Morahan said of her thought process when chosing parts to play. "Whatever feels a bit different and a bit new and explores a bit of my head I've not delved into before [is intriguing to me]."

The British actress' next role certainly falls into the categories she listed: Morahan stars as Nora in Henrik Ibsen's A Doll's House, which begins performances at Brooklyn Academy of Music Feb. 21, prior to an official opening Feb. 26. Directed by Carrie Cracknell, the production, which was adapted by Olivier Award-winning playwright Simon Stephens, played two sold-out runs and a West End transfer in the United Kingdom, and Morahan was awarded both the Evening Standard and Critics' Circle Award for Best Actress.

Transferring to Brooklyn from the Young Vic in London, Morahan first starred in Ibsen's story of a dysfunctional marriage struggling under the strains of blackmail and deceit at the Young Vic in June 2012 and revisited the role at the Duke of York's Theatre in fall 2013. Upon returning to the role, the actress, whose stage work includes Twelfth Night, The Seagull and The Real Thing, said she finds something new in it every time and looks forward to revisiting Nora, Ibsen's housewife who ultimately decides to leave her patronizing and demanding husband.

"It's sort of the most extraordinary play; I've never had that with a project," she said. "Every time you return to it, you sort of discover more. It's such a rich creation." A Doll's House, which was first performed in 1879 in Denmark, remains a frequently-produced play and is often included in literature and drama studies. Morahan first read the script in drama school, but said she thinks she only had a "superficial understanding" of it then.

"I don't know how much you can really comprehend of the depths of that when you're 17," Morahan said. "It's a play that sort of speaks to you in different ways according to your life experience. I respond to it from a very different way now, in my mid-30s. I'm sure if I was a mother, you'd get an even more visceral response to the act of leaving her children."

The responses are experienced by the audience as well, many of whom have discussed their reactions with Morahan after seeing the play.

"I used to have lots of really interesting conversations, often with older women, who'd been to the play, who responded because they had been through particular marriages, which might have had similarities to the marriage in the play," Morahan said. "It provokes really strong reactions in people, which is kind of gratifying as a performer. That's sort of what you want is to change the audience, make them feel something and think something."

Morahan credits the response that A Doll's House, a 19th-century play, evokes in a 20th-century audience, to the relevance of the text in present-day society, citing Ibsen's distancing himself from the women's movement and referring to A Doll's House as a humanist play. She said many have read it as an existentialist text, mentioning that it asks questions about honesty with a partnership and being true to oneself, as well as addressing economic disparities and the contrast between haves and have-nots.

"I think the response is because it's a woman as the protagonist, and she's within a particular type of marriage," Morahan said. "The relationships run on a particular pattern that entraps them both. I guess what it forces people to think about is where we think we've come in terms of feminist emancipations and the rights of women, and even though huge leaps have been made in terms of rights and laws, there is a lot of insidious inequality that we don't necessarily register because we're just so used to it... It's about relationships and it's about families and marriage and the family we see, and it's a very weird, distorted relationship. It makes you question where we're at."

Morahan describes herself as a feminist, saying she views modern-day feminism as a very complex situation; she also mentioned that she finds many women reluctant to identify with the label, fearing being viewed as "anti-men" or "anti-feminity or humorless."

"It's difficult to know where to start," she said. "I would definitely say I'm a feminist. To me it just means being attentive and mindful. It's about equality and equal treatment. It feels like a gut instinct. I think one's aware the media can bombard us with messages and what's in place, what the government intends for support for families. I think the older I get, the more I'm aware you have to put your antennae out and you start to detect insidious problems that are out there."

One problem Morahan said she has detected is the portrayal of women in the entertainment industry, which she said judges female appearance by a criteria that is unrealistic. Citing film, TV and news stations as well as theatre, she said she thinks women face great scrutiny in terms of their appearance.


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