Wife at Kiln Theatre
PUBLISHED: 13:18 05 June 2019
Samuel Adamson explores four generations of queer relationships through the prism of Ibsen’s A Doll’s House and his transgressive heroine Nora
In the opening scene of Samuel Adamson's Wife, Daisy is having an affair with an actress playing Nora in A Doll's House.
Despite the exhiliration of watching Ibsen's frustrated housewife slam the door on her husband, she represses her sexual identity and stays married.
In the 80s, a gay liberation activist in a straight pub rails to his friend against the institution of marriage - only to find himself in later life entwined in the same tradition he once despised.
Throughout four generations of two interconnected families, each intersects with a production of A Doll's House as Adamson explores the resonances in Ibsen's play.
"The play affects them in various ways, it speaks or doesn't speak to the time in which they live," he says.
When it premiered, critics feared that Nora walking out on house and children would spark a revolution, and pressured Ibsen to change the ending. Adamson, who has made a career out of "refreshing" texts by Ibsen, Chekhov and Schnitzler, concedes "there's no longer anything radical about divorce, it's part of the texture of our lives but the play still speaks to our time. The question of marriage and it's centrality to our culture is still very relevant. I also think the play is about what we lose as an individual if we are in a relationship. What do we sacrifice?"
It was the shift in gear towards same sex marriage that set him thinking about what the gay community may have lost in acceptance into the mainstream.
"As a gay man, friends kept asking me when I was going to get married, it was very curious to me and I began to ask whether I had maybe felt a bit more free when people weren't asking me that question," he says.
"Marriage seems to be more common than ever and while it's a wonderful thing that the world has changed and society is more liberated, I am interested in what it may mean for queer people who have always fought against these social constructs that they are now part of a heteronomative political and religious institution.
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"There's an expectation now that people who had previously made a deliberate choice not to get married will now conform to what society is expecting of them."
After being at the forefront of gay rights in the 80s, his character finds himself in 2019 in a traditional marriage much like his mother's.
"It asks questions about the potential conflict to his ideas and about public and private selves. The identity of the gay world in 1988 is palpable, there was something wonderful about existing undercover, being clandestine and transgressive.
"In 2019 there is no problem about gay people in a straight place, but one of the costs of that is that those gay safe spaces have gone, there's a blurring of identity, we are all like minded people but a sadness about what is lost when a community gets what it wants."
Wife also deals with the ramificiations of Daisy's choice: "She represses her true identity because of societal expectation, which has consequences for the rest of her life and her children's life".
"It's a very traditional marriage but the gay man is not that dissimilar to his mother. Those questions are still relevant about what we give up when we enter a contract with another person and with society."
For Adamson it's about how "the choices of our parents bear down on us and how buried secrets come up years later because when things are repressed they become poisonous."
Threaded through Wife is the human need for companionship "to love and be loved to look after and be looked after."
"People can still be caught in relationships with someone who abuses you or where you can't be true to yourself or because it's easier to be in a bad relationship than to walk out.
"We keep dealing with the same things over and over again."