The National Theatre production of Hedda Gabler breathes glimmering new life into Ibsen’s complex play and demonstrates how relevant and prescient his writing was. Astonishing to think that this was first published in 1890, how shocking and reviled it must have seemed to a Victorian audience. It’s pretty shocking today – when we are so much more understanding of psychology and self-awareness. The text, a new version by Patrick Marber, who had the original translated from scratch and then updated, reveals the play as fresh and relevant now as ever because it deals with themes that are human and timeless. Ambition, power, marriage and society, all are examined in surgical detail, stripped back to bare bone.
Hedda Gabler is an intelligent and ambitious woman who opts for security in a conventional marriage to Tesman, an academic, too frightened of society’s judgement to marry the brilliant but wayward writer Lovborg. After a 6 month research trip come honeymoon, she is bored, restless and has no purpose, returning to the grand new apartment they have bought, only to realise they cannot afford to fill it with beautiful things or social events as planned. Their vision of their future together has disappeared and they have little left in common. The arrival of Mrs Thea Elvsted, (Annabel Bates) a strong woman who has left her loveless marriage, serves only to highlight Hedda’s own fear and inability to act.
a beautiful but haunting adaptation of a truly classic play…
Hedda exists in a vacuum of her own creating. She is a child never grown up, demanding, seeking attention but with wit and intelligence and an alluring beauty which the men around her cannot resist. Lizzy Watts’ portrayal of Hedda is measured and controlled. Watts has a palpable tension in her frame which is deliberately at odds with her louche appearance in silk negligee. Hedda would like us to think her creative and exciting but in fact she seeks power and control, and Watts walks this fine line with care and precision. She seems small and fragile against the brutal masculinity of the trio of men. Tesman (Abhin Galeya) seems charming and warm but has a dark vein of raw ambition running through him. Lovborg morphs from reformed alcoholic to degenerate with breakneck speed and Richard Pyros shows this most convincingly. Adam Best, as Brack, a judge and close family friend, brings a real danger and palpable threat.
Hedda is not an ‘everyday’ kind of woman: she is trapped like an exquisite hummingbird in her own gilded cage, in this case, a beautifully lit empty box, an echo chamber for her desperate loneliness. The Hedda Gabler stage set, lighting and soundscape are breathtaking. The stark, spare walls fill the stage, with no exits or entrances hinting at any life beyond. Hedda is literally trapped within the walls. The only light source is a huge window, which throws enormous angular shadows across the walls, with a palette of pale grey, golden peach and pink suffused lavender hinting at sunrise or sunset. This could be an art installation, and with the addition of Joni Mitchell’s plaintive music, there are moments of pure beauty here. There are a few moments of explosive, colourful action, also very painterly in nature, which highlight the spare modernity of the set but also bring their own artistic vision: flowers strewn around the stage and then stapled to the walls in an orderly fashion, a bloody split drink. Hedda Gabler is a beautiful but haunting adaptation of a truly classic play, by visionary Director Ivo van Hove.
Reviewer: Kathryn McAuley.
Hedda Gabler runs at Nottingham Theatre Royal 5th Feb to 10th Feb 2018