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Scully meets Doctor in Ibsen play

20 May 09 10:29 GMT

By Neil Smith
Entertainment reporter, BBC News

Gillian Anderson of The X-Files fame and former Doctor Who actor Christopher Eccleston have joined forces to appear in a London production of Henrik Ibsen's A Doll's House.

The result will no doubt appeal to sci-fi fans who may have secretly wondered what might happen if FBI agent Dana Scully ever crossed paths with a certain Time Lord.

More striking than its eye-catching casting, however, is the way this Donmar Warehouse revival brings a topical edge to this 19th-Century classic.

How? By making Norwegian banker Torvald Helmer - renamed Thomas Vaughan in Zinnie Harris's adaptation - a Westminster politician facing a career-wrecking scandal.

It is a bold move that cannot help but reflect the current uproar over MPs' expense claims and financial underhandedness.

One suspects, though, the play would strike chords of recognition even if its launch did not coincide with such a national cause celebre.

Since the X-Files TV series came to an end in 2002, Anderson has carved a new niche for herself as a star of British films and the West End stage.

Arrogance

Earlier this year she featured as an "honorary Brit" on a list of the UK's 20 most powerful women in theatre compiled by Harper's Bazaar magazine.

She was also seen as Dickens' Lady Dedlock in the BBC's Bleak House serial, a performance that landed her a Bafta nomination.

The period gowns she wears in A Doll's House recall that series, but her character could hardly be more different.

Flighty and girlish, Nora Vaughan is a trophy wife who lives to please her minister husband - played with a preening, patrician arrogance by onetime Bond villain Toby Stephens.

In truth, however, Nora has been keeping a secret from Thomas that could bring their comfortable middle-class existence crashing about their ears.

Unbeknownst to him, Nora forged her late father's signature to secure a loan from Thomas's bitter rival Neil Kelman, played by Eccleston.

When he arrives at her home on Christmas Eve threatening to expose her, she finds herself in an impossible situation.

Traditionally, this marital intrigue has formed a preamble to Nora's climactic realisation that her life is an illusory sham.

Hypocrisy

Armed with this discovery, she makes an empowering decision to leave her husband and two children that shocked audiences when the play was first staged in London in 1889.

This climax, strikingly staged by Israeli-born director Kfir Yefet, still exerts a dramatic force in the Donmar's intimate studio space.

Perhaps inevitably, though, it is Stephens' essay in rank hypocrisy and self-serving venality that leaves the strongest impression.

Eccleston's role is a minor one by comparison, though he convincingly portrays a desperate man fighting for survival in his relatively brief appearances.

The strong cast is augmented by Tara Fitzgerald as Nora's impoverished friend Christine and Anton Lesser as a doctor stoically facing a terminal illness.

Leading from the front, though, is Gillian Anderson in a compelling performance that could well see her shortlisted for further accolades.

Intriguingly, the programme lists Ffion Hague - wife of shadow foreign secretary William - as the production's historical advisor.

Her husband's Westminster colleagues have until 18 July to catch a play they may see more of their world in than they would like to admit.

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