by LAUREN CODLING

THE leading actress of a classic Henrik Ibsen play has revealed how the dynamic of the production will seem “new” to audiences, after it has been re-imagined in 19th century India.

A new adaptation of A Doll’s House will be shown at the Lyric Hammersmith Theatre in west London this month. Originally written by theatre director and playwright Ibsen, the classic modern tragedy follows the awakening of a middle-class wife and mother.

Anjana Vasan plays the role of Niru — previously known as Nora in Ibsen’s 1879 production.

Anjana Vasan plays the role of Niru, formally known as Nora in the original 1879 script

Written by Tanika Gupta, the version will see Vasan’s character break free of her English, colonial bureaucrat husband, offering a powerful female perspective while exploring themes of “ownership” and race.

First set in Norway, the production is now played out in Calcutta (now Kolkata). As the play is relatively well-known, and most audiences will be aware of how the narrative unfolds, Vasan hopes that the change in setting can bring a unique feel to the story.

“The dynamic is different because you have a brown woman and a white man and that complicates things in a good way,” the actress told Eastern Eye during rehearsals. “But it also complicates the other characters and how they relate to each other, as there is a dynamic of race. I feel that it will feel familiar for people who already know (A Doll’s House), but with a sense of something new.”

Previously, Vasan had acted out the part of Nora for an audition during drama school. Admitting that the role was always something that she would have loved to pursue, Vasan is delighted to have bagged the leading role.

“I never imagined it would come my way,” she smiled.

Anjana Vasan and Elliot Cowan in rehearsals for A Doll’s House

Born in Chennai, south India, Vasan moved to Singapore with her parents when she was three years old. She grew up watching theatre — “it was how I came to love the arts industry” — and her desire to pursue a career in drama grew.

As she engaged further with the arts industry, Vasan recalled finding a commonality with other actors.

“There is a tribe that you find with people if you feel like a bit of an oddball,” she said. “I absolutely am still, but I definitely was one growing up.

“I’m probably not very confident or articulate in some instances, but that was a way for me to be all of those things. It was something of an escapism and a way to find friends, but then there was a real sense of satisfaction from collaborating with people and enjoying what it was and then I got a bit obsessed with it.”

Vasan relocated to the UK in 2010 to attend the Royal Welsh College of Music and Drama in Cardiff.

Now based in north-west London, the actress has made a number of appearances in theatre, film and television.

Anjana starred in Vinay Patel’s An Adventure at the Bush Theatre in 2018

Her first leading role was in Vinay Patel’s An Adventure in 2018, which followed a young Indian couple as they journey from 1950s India to Kenya and finally, the UK.

Now, Vasan is the lead in A Doll’s House — an opportunity that has brought a range of emotions to the surface.

“To say I play the lead in this is very new and exciting,” she said. “But it is terrifying too, though, to say ‘oh sh*t, this is my chance’.”

Acknowledging that the industry can be difficult to work in full-time, Vasan revealed that the hardest aspect is the uncertainty. There is always pressure to get a new job, and she admitted that it can be difficult to go from one to another.

“Luck is a huge part of that,” Vasan remarked. “You can do the best job and have the best agent, but sometimes it is just a bit of bad luck that you didn’t get a particular job and (it can be difficult) dealing with that stress and knowing that it is a job that you need to maintain with real life.”

Besides acting, Vasan has also dabbled in music. She released her folk EP Too Dark for Country in 2017. She finds enjoyment in music as it differs from acting and there’s no stress of trying to make money from it.

But it can be difficult to schedule it around her theatre career.

“I like that it is another creative muscle, but when you’re on stage every evening, it is
hard to do gigs,” she said.

Does she have any other creative goals for the future?

“I’d love to do a comedy soon — I feel like I’ve been crying a lot in my last few acting jobs,” she laughed.

A Doll’s House will run at the Lyric Hammersmith Theatre from Friday (6) until October 5

Feature and rehearsal images by Helen Maybanks