NDS stages Henrik Ibsen’s ‘A Doll’s House’ at Kinnaird College

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BY IDWA AHSAN

 

LAHORE: It is worth wondering how every year Najmuddin Dramatics Society (NDS) at Kinnaird College (KC) manages to find a Vivien Leigh, a Julie Andrews and a Helene Weigel, not to forget a Richard Burbage.

This year, NDS from May 10 to May 13, staged Henrik Ibsen’s “A Doll’s House”, in which the Norwegian playwright dealt with the fate of a married woman, Nora, and her sense of self-fulfillment in a male-dominated world.

Staged at KC’s decades-old Hladia Hall, Nora Helmer, played by Sohaira Khalid, a senior student of English Literature, brought to life one of the greatest sensations of all times; can a woman go rogue? Her acting was flawless, and this is not an exaggeration because I watched her on the final two performances, the strain and stress of the third and fourth performances did not add even an extra sweat to her brow. Rather she was so gelled in with her character, much like Helene Weigel’s silent scream, Sohaira Khalid’s voice broke down in her final act when she was singing “A Dream Is A Wish Your Heart Makes”, and it made it a chorus not for dear Cinderelli, but for the Skylark, the sweet little Nora. Her eyes sparkled with tears withheld, and in that moment, she was Nora Helmer crying out to the world before her.

Aqsa Asif played the delightful man, Torvald Helmer. Her blood red shirt in the final act was well at par with her manly gestures of comfort and care towards Nora, her flaming red hair styled into a man’s hairdo actually gave her precedence over femininity. Keeping up with the flavour and fragrance of the production was Hadiya Hassan Sheikh who played Kristine Linde. Her natural flair for acting was visible even from the last bench, her being Mrs Linde swept across the hall on numerous occasions such as peering out of the window, quite pointedly trying to avoid Krogstad; her expressions of anxiety and of gaiety were well-pronounced.

The infamous Nils Krogstad played by Natasha Faisal sent serious vibes all across, adding yet another layer to the many personas of this production. Dr Rank’s (Nimra Iqbal Butt) walking stiff and his unsteady walk added just the right amount of correlation with the rest of the actors on-stage.

One attribute that made the production a classic NDS’s performance was the dance sequence choreographed by Hajra Zahid Khan and Fatima Qamar. So splendidly did it echo the sounds and songs of the play, one could swear it was there on the script. The four dancing couples in tuxedoes and in ever-flowing gowns added the required grace and poise to the entire recital.

Costumes were all on-point, as organised by Dr Iram Anjum. Even the maid, played by Aayat Hassan, had the most adorable apron, a waist tie, a bow on her lower back and a lace headpiece. The stage-set was designed by the Fine Arts Department Instructor Ms Rebecca and painted by a junior Literature student, Anum Naseer and her creative team. It was the perfect doll’s house of the Victorian era any young girl would want in her room. The colours were not pale neither were they bold. The hues of green, yellow and blue with a painted rose on one of them, were picturesque. Live singing by Keziah Austin, who played the nanny, and by Sohaira Khalid also included the folk song, Lavender’s Blue Dilly Dilly. Not a note was out of tune or out of context.

The invisible labourers of this production include the crew members all of whom did not make the audience believe that a single cue had been missed. Mariyam Yousaf Sheikh, the president of the society, a Food Science senior student, asked the audience whether they still await miracles to happen in light of Nora’s journey and “with a little sprinkling of music” she herself too rendered her voice to the live musical score of this production.

One who deserves equal if not more praise is the society’s advisor, Dr Nadia Anjum who was the mastermind behind the costumes, the idea of the sets and the enactment itself. Her creativity as seen earlier in the performances of My Fair Lady, Arms and the Man among many others shows her originality and her creative impulse for theatre productions.

“There is no harm in putting dolls into houses or getting houses for dolls, what matters is giving that doll a homely house too. A little trust, confidence and respect that would enable the dolls to perform miracles as mothers, wives, house builders, as strong women,” said the NDC advisor at the occasion.

Having said this, the audience felt the initial act prolonged more than it ought to, like a court-case the dialogues a bit more than they could have been, however, it was justified towards the end when it all fell in place.

Hence, with a stage so aptly bedecked and a cast so attuned to their roles, this production was by and large another laurel to the historic legacy of NDS and to A Doll’s House’s adaptations as well.