Being on a budget is tough, more so with a debt hanging like a guillotine’s blade above your head. But when that money devourer is a secret from even your inner circle, it can gnaw at everything — relationships included.
Three-act play A Doll’s House, originally by Henrik Ibsen, takes on themes of love and sacrifice, of self-discovery and life’s great balancing act. An updated Middle Eastern adaptation of the same name in English, by Dubai-based theatre group Danu, runs in Ductac, Mall of the Emirates from May 10-13. Ahead of the show, Danu’s founder and the director and producer of the play Padraig Downey and leads Undaleeb Qazi and Abdullah Al Qassab talk relevance, importance of Arabic shows and the impact of A Doll’s House on their own lives.
A Doll’s House follows Nora’s journey as she saves her husband’s life by borrowing money for his treatment from his childhood nemesis without telling him about the act, and the subsequent toll that takes on her and their relationship. Plus, there’s that element of revenge from the foe. However, spoiler alert, it does end with her taking charge of her own destiny.
Downey says the story is an important one to share. “A Doll’s House is one of the most ethical plays ever written. And it’s one of the most important plays ever written, because [as] George Bernard Shaw, the Irish critic, said [of the play], ‘The door slamming at the end reverberated all around the world.’... Of course, it [the original Ibsen play] premiered in 1879, so I really want to recapture that kind of magic and that power of the script. And I feel that by setting it in the Middle East, updating it, and putting it in the 1990s here would have more significance.”
To update it, names have been tweaked, as have circumstances. One of the most challenging things about staging this play, explains Downey, is to get local customs right. “We’ve had two [Emirati] ladies who came in and really guided me and helped me. In fact, they even got the costumes for the ladies, they were that involved,” he says.
The show, which even Ibsen called a humanist play, has universal themes. Perhaps that’s why it resonates with the cast — a multi-cultural blend of personalities.
Al Qassab, who plays Talal, Nora’s husband, says: “Even though this play [is set] somewhere in Europe, over a hundred years ago, it does cover a person who is available everywhere... [Playing Talal] was a bit hard because I always try my best to be the husband who is democratic and listens, and then I’m doing the act, I’m being the exact opposite of what I wanted to be in real life... So [now] I’m going to end a conversation at home going, ‘Wait, wait, this is what Helmer, or Talal, is doing, so maybe I should not do that the next time.’”
His onstage wife, Qazi, says her character is one she can identify with all too well. “Nora’s vulnerability as well as her need to please is definitely something I can identify with. I also believe she has quite a courageous heart, and like a lot of women, she’s seeking her own inner truth and her own inner freedom.”
Downey says using local actors to depict the story is important, not least because the city is a colourful palate of cultures. “Dubai is a leader and UAE is a leader in the world, and... the culture needs to follow that... Dubai has everything, but the art is still developing and I think that you can see it now really coming to the fore, hopefully, in the next few years ahead, that there will be a deep yearning because all of us as human beings, we question life, we questioned our existence... and I think that’s the wonderful thing about theatre, that we are all equal on stage.”
And that’s the great message of A Doll’s House. As Nora says: “Before anything else, I’m a human being.”
Don’t miss it!
A Doll’s House runs at Ductac on May 10-13. tickets start at Dh60.