Rave reviews for new adaptation of 'The Dollhouse' by Daniel Schlusser
Director Daniel Schlusser, having completed his Master of Dramatic Art (by research) at the Victorian College of the Arts last year, has staged a new adaptation of Henrik Ibsen’s classic play The Dollhouse at Melbourne’s fortyfivedownstairs in September to rave reviews. The production, described in the Australian as ‘breathtakingly simple and startlingly modern’, is part of the 2011 Fringe Festival.
Audiences were transported into a ‘contemporary domestic horror’ by a cast of VCA acting alumni including Nikki Shiels, Edwina Wren, Josh Price and Kade Greenland. Housewife Nora (played by Shiels) in a performance of ‘rare emotional intricacy’ (Cameron Woodhead, The Age) comes to question her life married to a banker, Torvald (Greenland). Schlusser calls it Nora's journey from yummy mummy to liberated woman.
Having achieved cult like status as a director with his radically contemporary interpretations of the canon – Schlusser’s 2009 production of Peer Gynt was celebrated as ‘mischievous, beguiling and ultimately haunting’ (Alison Croggon, Theatre Notes) – this production of The Dollhouse had its genesis in a 2007 production at the VCA. The second in a trilogy of Ibsen works by Schlusser, all three works explore the theatrical form through the lens of social ritual.
Schlusser has directed groundbreaking theatre productions for the past twenty years, acclaimed as a performer, a writer, a choreographer and one of Australia’s most influential dramaturges. So why then, did he decide to embark on his Master’s by research at the VCA?
‘Prior to starting the Master’s, I was feeling like a nomad, not based in any particular city, moving between Berlin, London and Melbourne and really felt that I needed an ambitious project that would keep me in one place. Also, I was feeling the "loneliness of the auto-didact" and speaking with Richard (Murphet) realised that the college could be a great base to survey and consolidate the process that I had developed,’ Schlusser says.
Asked how his VCA experience helped him to succeed in his chosen practice, he explains,
‘Well, for a self-starter, going to the VCA was like being in a giant bouncy castle. I was so unused to having that sort of support and enthusiasm to help me move forward. It turned out that – more than merely consolidating – the support structures and collegial enthusiasm at the college allowed me to take some huge risks, which in turn was invaluable in making some leaps in form and the ability of the form to reflect my idiosyncrasies as an artist.’
Currently working with performers and other artists for the fourth or fifth time is a joy for Schlusser, ‘Right now I'm enjoying being part of a lot of different people's artistic journeys... it's a second family, a diverse family.’
Schlusser comments on how radically the theatre-making landscape has changed since he started out,
‘There is a lot more support; mentors are available and companies are open to fresh voices.’
He advises less seasoned theatre makers to take advantage of these things but not to get distracted by conventions.
‘Artists need to stay on the outside, or their power is diminished. Even if you get a bit lost forging your own path, the benefits of getting lost are more valuable than those that come with ticking boxes and making the right career moves.’