During the entirety of this National Theatre production of Henrik Ibsen’s Hedda Gabler (adapted by Patrick Marber) currently performing at Leicester Curve Theatre – ‘Du kunne ha hørt en pin slipp’. What’s that? ‘You could have heard a pin drop’. Hedda Gabler is so profoundly gripping. Even though the original was written in 1890 the themes of hate and melancholy in the newly made marital nest are still very relevant to today’s modern society.
Ibsen’s Hedda Gabler is typical of women in her position (says Ibsen). Her destructive nature adds to her flighty, dangerous and off – kilter character making Gabler a pistol packing human time bomb. She marries ambitious academic bore Tesman but is infatuated with the idea of being desired by old beaux Eilert Lovburg. Equally she rejects Lovburg and taunts him into going back to his drinking ways. Interestingly Hedda’s new husband Tesman is played much less a comical figure than in other productions.
The Tesman couple’s existence is riddled with money doubts and potentially huge future debts all hanging in the precarious balance of Tesman’s academic progress. Eilert Lovburg returns sober and brilliant minded from a past which condemned him as a drunk and wastrel. Lovburg’s new book is a huge success and he promises an even greater success with a fresh hand-written manuscript about the future. Mrs Elvsted and Judge Brack also visit the ‘far too big to live in’ new modernist home of the Tesman’s. Whilst both parties are primarily of good humour and positivity, Hedda Gabler’s temperaments soon turn the festivities into a den of spite and self-destruction. Mrs Elvsted covets Lovburg and Judge Brack plans to take Hedda Gabler for himself by means fair or foul.
The programme notes contain a handy reference to the nature of power in these words ‘Power is beautiful, control is beautiful. Opening a door would be beautiful, especially in a room made entirely of walls. It is interesting that almost every approach to the Tesman household is down the auditorium aisles. This theatrical approach adds to the collusive nature of the audience. We are aurally and visually approaching the play from a distance yet our presence adds immeasurably to the claustrophobic environment. Later in the second half we are even witnesses to the perculiarity of the only ‘on stage’ exit (the large sliding door/window) being blocked up with boarding and barricaded from the outside world by the few items of furniture the Tesman’s possess aside from the old piano.
The entire cast are hypnotic: Annabel Bates (Mrs Elvsted), Adam Best (Brack), Abhin Galeya (Tesman), Christine Kavanagh (Juliana), Madlena Nedeva (Berte), Richard Pyros (Lovborg) and most especially Lizzy Watts as a fragile, mentally and morally damaged anti-heroine Hedda Gabler. Some visually nightmarish surrealist action intrigues and the inclusion of the time stopping song ‘Blue’ by Joni Mitchell adds aurally to the shifting attitudes at the heart of the play. The direction by Ivo Van Hove is exemplary and Jan Verweyveld’s bleakly stylish set is vast and impressive.
Hedda Gabler runs at Curve until Saturday 28 October and is an extraordinary dramatic addition to Curve’s 2017-18 programme.
Reviewer: Phil Lowe