Theatre Review: Hedda Gabler

By Julia Parry | 14th February 2018

Hedda Gabler Poster

Hedda’s story, originally conceived by Henrik Ibsen in 1890, has been rewritten in a new version by multi award-winning Patrick Marber. The High Victorian drama has been transported to today; Ibsen made the theatre a place where real life jostles with inner life regardless of the time in which it is set, therefore the play has kept its vitality and freshness more than a century after its first performance.

Marber states that "It has a bracing wit; it is paced like a thriller; it resonates because people are still making bad marriages when they settle for a compromised version of what they truly want."

The stage set resembles a huge, undecorated and almost empty box - it represents the house that Tesman (Abhin Galeya) has bought for his new wife Hedda (Lizzy Watts giving a sublime performance in the title role). The sheer size and vastness of the space making Hedda appear very small and fragile: she appears to be living in a box, permanently on show and with no escape.

Each person involved in Hedda’s life appear to have some kind of claim to her; either her beauty, body or mind, giving her the perception of being the property of all who know her. She behaves like a caged animal. Berta the maid (Madlena Nedeva) is sitting at the corner of the stage throughout the performance, with very little to say but she appears to be watching and analysing Hedda’s every move. The so-called friend to all, Judge Brack (played to devastating perfection by Adam Best) is almost like an alter ego to Hedda: his domineering, bullying character is constantly judging and is extremely disturbing to watch as he layers up the self-destruction in Hedda’s mind. In this current ‘Me Too’ climate, I found watching his extreme abuse to Hedda to be quite sickening with his calculation and accuracy of attack.

Hedda Gabler

There are no doors on the stage, where Hedda is always on show the rest of the cast enter and exit via the audience. They can all come and go whereas Hedda is always trapped. There is a large sliding window left of stage where the majority of lighting emanates from; it shines like bright sunshine on a late summer day, casting large shadows from one side as in a Caravaggio painting. This heightens the perception of Hedda being trapped in her self-inflicted prison, a lovely sunny day yet she stays inside.

Adding yet another layer of tension is an almost inaudible infrasound drone making the uneasiness on stage even more profound. During Act One, Hedda takes out some of her frustration by destroying bunches of fresh flowers, hurling them all over the surface of the stage; they emanate a strong floral fragrance and along with the stark lighting, infrasound drone and heady scent of flowers, the audience’s senses are on overdrive.

This incredible, thought-provoking and disturbing production is directed by Ivo Van Hove: "The play is not about the status of women in nineteenth century Europe. Nor is it a love story - nor a marital drama". He sees it "rather as an existential drama about a woman deciding if she wants to live or not." He goes on to say "Hedda Gabler is one of the great roles in the female repertoire and is often described as the woman’s Hamlet. Like The Prince of Denmark, Hedda beguiles, appals, intimidates and charms an audience."

Hedda Gabler is a character to both love and loathe - this stunning production has to be seen to be believed.

Showing at The Grand Opera House York until Saturday 24 February. CLICK BELOW TO BOOK For people under 26 - £5 tickets are available for this production with no booking fee. Quote IBSEN5 to book (subject to availability).

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