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Christina Savopoulos | April 26, 2022

Image Credit: Alice Hutchison

The Union Theatre will open its doors to a new production this week on April 26; it will be the Union House Theatre’s (UHT) talented creative team’s last work after experiencing several pandemic delays. After providing a sanctuary for theatre-loving UniMelb students for an unmatched legacy of 84 years, Union Theatre at the Union House is set to close, with UHT making their move mid year to the Arts and Cultural Building in the Student Precinct at Parkville campus. 

Adapted from Henrik Ibsen’s 1879 play A Doll’s House, UHT’s selected production is playwright Stef Smith’s revised and revolutionary version retitled Nora: A Doll’s House, directed for UHT by Xanthe Beesley and Liv Satchell. Set in three different time periods, each 50 years apart (1918, 1968, 2018), Nora: A Doll’s House unpacks and explores the evolution of women’s rights and their roles in the home. This radical reiteration is more relevant than ever, with its time shifts allowing space for some much-needed reflection on how far we have come as a society, and if we’ve even changed at all. 

I sat down with Leah Bourne, who plays the 2018 version of Nora, who spoke on the creative rehearsal process and how she slipped into the psyche of her character. 

Christina: What were your inspirations for the role? 

Leah: I started off with a bit of historical research; what was happening in that time, in 2018 for women especially. I looked a little bit into all kinds of things, things that were going on globally, in Venezuela and stuff like that, and then kind of looked at what Nora would be aware of and what she might not be aware of. I thought that being quite busy she might not [come] across all [these] global affairs, but she would probably be on social media and she might even kind of be seeing the MeToo movement kick off at that time. 

And then from there we did a bit of physical work, which was really amazing. It was quite different for characters that were in [earlier] time periods, but for me I would kind of use something that was a bit more subtle. I thought about “where would my character lead from in my body?”, so I was thinking about my rib cage and my heart. I think that was the starting point for me in terms of trying to find a character. And then it was just obviously really great once we got to see the costumes and all that, and that was really amazing and all kind of feeds into it. I think working with the subtlety for the 2018 era was what I leaned a bit more towards.  

C: Nora was one of the first UHT shows to be back in production after lockdown, how was it being back in person?

L: It’s been amazing. The online workshops UHT ran were really great and they did a wonderful job [of] making it super engaging and getting everyone involved and moving around instead of just staring at a screen. So, they did a great job but nothing compares to being in the room. We did a one week intensive before we started the rehearsal period. That one week intensive, just being in the room with people, being in the theatre, rehearsing—the excitement was just incredible. It feels so, so exciting, even now just doing the tech and everything like that, it’s really surreal and I’m so grateful to be back in person and doing live theatre. I think it’s something that I know I definitely missed, and I think quite a lot of people missed it. It’ll be nice to have an audience and for people to be able to enjoy watching theatre again.

C: What was the rehearsal process like? 

L: The process was really interesting. I hadn’t done much theatre before so it was going to be new for me anyway, but the process with Liv and Xanthe working together is really unique. Liv is very text-oriented and Xanthe uses a movement approach. So, when you combine the two of them, it’s really rich. [As for] the intensive itself, we did a lot of warming up and getting to know each other; certain exercises and games that helped the cast become an ensemble. I think that on the surface, certain people can feel that games and warmups aren’t practical, but I think it was really useful and really great to build that sense of ensemble so we can move and work together and have that cohesive unit. 

It was a lot of movement exercises and playing with gestures and things like that; gestures across different time periods. We’re still changing a few little things here and there, physically, just to try and create the piece we want. It’s been a really great experience, Liv and Xanthe create a really healthy and safe space so it’s great to be able to make offers and explore and try things. 

C: Were there any standout moments from the process? 

L: I think for me, the highlight has been bumping in [last] week and getting to hear some of the music and the lighting and seeing how that hits you differently and how that hits everyone in the cast. How it’s created a new kind of intensity and has brought us together even more. It starts to feel more like a little world that we’ve created and are experiencing together. I think that’s probably been the highlight for me, seeing how those elements have kind of changed and brought us together, and the performance together.

C: There’s a lot of nostalgia around Nora being the last UHT show to be performed in Union Theatre, do you feel a kind of pressure performing or is it just excitement?

L: I’ve thought about it but I haven’t felt any pressure yet. I’ve kind of just put my head down and been really focused on doing the best we can do. So yeah, it does feel very special and I do feel really grateful, it does feel like the end of an era. It drives home even more that we want to do it justice; we want to do the play justice, and this amazing building that’s served students and art for so long. I think it’s more of a drive, an ambition, to make it as great as it can be. 

C: Your Nora is situated in 2018, how did you emotionally and mentally enter the state of your character in that time? 

L: I created a Nora playlist that I’ve been listening to like before each run. And that’s got just so many different types of music: Chalice, Hauser, Hans Zimmer scores, but then there’s also a Bruce Springsteen song and all kinds of things that I thought might help situate me emotionally in the landscape before walking on stage. 

I think for me, I honestly struggle to find where I wanted it to be. I knew what I wanted but I wasn’t quite hitting that, or I missed the mark, and it wasn’t until I started using the playlist that I started feeling more emotionally and energetically present. And then I think the tech elements helped as well; knowing what sound was going to be used, the lighting and the set itself. I think all of that really helped or has been helping in tech to kind of push it to where I imagined it would be. So, fingers crossed, who knows? 

C: Is there anything the audience should keep in mind when seeing Nora?

L: I think [people should] come with an open mind. It touches on a lot of different themes and a lot of different social topics. Some of which, especially for women, have been considered taboo in the past, but we’re getting to the point as a society where we’re a bit more open now, and a bit more accepting and supportive of women. Just come with an open mind and allow yourself to experience the world and the lives of all these different characters. 

Nora: A Doll’s House is being performed at Union Theatre this week from 26 to 30 April. Book your tickets here.

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Christina Savopoulos

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