Interview with Bryony Lavery

We spoke this week to Bryony Lavery, the writer who has adapted the text of A Dolls House, which we are presenting at The Lowry from February 24th 2011.

*Q:*Who’s idea was it to adapt the play? Your idea or the Birmingham Rep’s? And how did it all come about?
*A:*Rachel Kavanaugh from Birmingham Rep asked me to adapt it. She had been reading all the existing versions…which were all by men…and thought a “female” version might be interesting…

Q: Is there anything in you which thinks it’s so perfect as it is so why change it?
A: As I studied it and reread it, in the wonderful literal translation by Neil Howard and Tonje Gotschalken, I realised that, as a structure, it works like clockwork, so I really didn’t change it very much at all. I simply tried to follow the lead of the literal translators and keep it limpid and clear. A few years after I’d done my version, I saw a version directed by Tonja Gotschalken, in a preserved apartment in an Oslo museum. Seeing how all the movement and sound effects[postbox, footfalls on stairs etc]proved how carefully Ibsen had worked out every bit of domestic geography for the piece.

Q: In adapting the play, how much licence do you give yourself in changing any aspects of the original text? Is the idea to emphasise certain scenes or certain actors, maybe at the expense of other scenes or other actors?
A: I try to remember that I am trying to serve another writer to have their work presented in another language…so the task is simply to find the shortest path through the forest…to present the piece in a way a British audience can hear and understand. The big reminder I had in my head was to not think of it as Victorian…but to obey the internal rules of the play’s culture.

Q: And how much licence did the Birmingham Rep give you? Do you have carte blanche to do more or less what you want with the text?
A: Rachel gave me no boundaries at all. The main licence I took was deciding that…as it was a domestic drama…people who live together and know each other rather well, often talk over one another! This meant I simply decided where the next speech should cut in to the former, which I think gives the scenes a lack of formality and intensity of repressed frustration that helps the airless landscape of the play. When we first did the play…there was an infamous German version at The Barbican…where Nora shot her husband dead before leaving her house!

Q: It’s clearly a play you are very familiar with, so how conscious are you of other adaptations of the play you may have seen?
*A:*When I was working from the literal…I looked at how other versions had expressed some moments. Also, when Rachel was rehearsing, and something was proving difficult to realize, we’d say “Let’s see how The Boys did this”…which was most illuminating!

Q: Why do you think the play has stood the test of time so well? Is the challenge to ask today’s generation of theatre-goers see the play in a different light to what they might know of it? 

A: It is a play about the battle for survival between men and women. We’ve still a very very long way to go in equality of opportunity, power, respect, before this play is going to be a museum exhibit.