2021-23 | My Name is Laura Kieler: The True Story of Ibsen's A Doll's House

Monochrome image depicts Adeleide Johannessen in character as Nora dancing the tarantella dance and holding, above her head, a tambourine in her right hand.

Adeleide Johannessen in character as Nora dancing the tarantella dance. Image from a cigarette card of c. 1880–82 via Wikimedia

'My Name is Laura Kieler: The True Story of Ibsen's A Doll's House'


Knowledge Exchange Fellow
Professor Kirsten Shepherd-Barr   |   Faculty of English   |   University of Oxford

Partner Organisation
Breach Theatre | Billy Barrett and Ellice Stevens



This project is the next phase of the collaboration with Breach Theatre company to create an original theatre piece based on the true story behind Ibsen's most famous play, A Doll's House. Ibsen based his character of Nora directly on the real-life figure of Laura Kieler, an aspiring writer and a friend of Ibsen's, whose private difficulties furnished the plot of his play-- without her knowledge or permission. Seeing her personal problems put up on stage for all to see was a shock that caused Laura life-long trauma, and yet she managed to go on to establish a successful career as the author of novels, plays, and newspaper articles even while struggling to set the record straight about how Ibsen used her as his raw material and capitalized on her anguish. Laura's story is a powerful example of a woman overcoming adversity and exploitation by men at a time when women's voices were only just beginning to be heard. Building on the KE Innovation fund project, which allowed us to explore this extraordinary story's possibilities for performance, we will expand and develop our ideas into a full-length play that will powerfully illuminate Laura's relevance for contemporary issues and debates, such as the MeToo movement and the 'bad art friend' controversies.

kirsten shepherd barr

Kirsten Shepherd-Barr

Kirsten Shepherd-Barr is Professor of English and Theatre Studies at the University of Oxford, and a Tutorial Fellow in English at St Catherine’s College.  She was published widely on Ibsen, and works regularly with theatre companies on productions of his plays


tzen sam

Tzen Sam

Tzen Sam is a DPhil Candidate in the Faculty of English, researching Ibsen’s first female English translators under the supervision of Kirsten Shepherd-Barr. Her research interests include Victorian and modern literature, C20th and C21st drama, translation studies and performance studies. She is also the co-convenor of the TORCH Reimagining Performance Network. 



Breach Theatre
Breach is an award-winning devised theatre company founded by theatre-makers Billy Barrett and Ellice Stevens with filmmaker Dorothy Allen-Pickard.  The core team collaborates with performers and other creatives to make socially engaged, formally innovative live shows that blend humour with a sharp political edge.  They combine documentary and verbatim theatre techniques with devising and new writing to create a layered performance style.  Their playtexts are published by Oberon books.



Billy Barrett

Billy Barrett is a theatre director, writer and co-founder of Breach. Recent productions for Breach include Joan of Leeds and It’s True, It’s True, It’s True. He has led workshops in documentary and devised theatre for organisations including the National Theatre, Old Vic Theatre, and the Roundhouse. 



Ellice Stevens

Ellice Stevens is a performer, deviser, writer and co-founder of Breach. She has co-written all of their film and theatre productions including the Scotsman Fringe First winning It’s True, It’s True, It’s True and Tank. She has also worked as a deviser and performer in all of their productions, most recently the short film Van Life and It’s True, for which she was part of the ensemble that was awarded The Stage Edinburgh Award for Acting Excellence. She is also a freelance performer who has worked with companies such as The Handlebards and Barrel Organ. 

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