Hedda Gabler - review

Posted on: 05 October 2012 by Gareth Hargreaves

Ibsen classic provides a richly rewarding evening of theatre - stars Sheridan Smith and Adrian Scarborough

Sheridan Smith as Hedda GablerA play which emerges as fresh and shocking as when it was originally written comes in the shape of Anna Maekmin’s perfectly pitch production of Ibsen’s Hedda Gabler (Old Vic Theatre), adapted by Brian Friel.

The action is played out swiftly over 24 hours and provides a startlingly resonant portrait of a free-spirited woman who rebels against a life of crippling devotion. Recently returned from a six-month honeymoon, Hedda Gabler is captive in a grand house and dry relationship. Her husband Tesman is a formidable academic, a sincere, homely man but one whose idea of excitement is studying medieval Dutch domestic crafts. Inevitably she feels unfulfilled, and her frustrations fins shocking expression.

In past productions it has been difficult to understand why these two people got together when they are so hopelessly incompatible. This version, however, helps to make it clear in some poignant moments early on, which show the marriage functioning before it starts to fall apart, here we can understand why they married but also accept they are totally mismatched.

Mackmin’s staying is particularly effective at creating an atmosphere of nervous unease and the tension between the production’s jokes and the sense of impending disaster proves particularly strong. Indeed the moment when Hedda considers what to do with the abandoned manuscript of her former beau, Loevborg had me holding my breath.

Lez Brotherston’s striking set of Hedda’s luxurious new home with its glass walls and billowing curtains is highly atmospheric.

But it is the marvellous performances that help lift this production and bring it so vividly to life. Sheridah Smith in her most demanding role to date, is both funny and deeply affecting as Hedda bringing terrific poise and style to the role but also an entirely credible malevolence and sudden desperate emotion. She finds the humanity in Hedda but never softens the blow with sentiment, Adrian Scarbborough also impresses us the self-absorbed Tesman as does Darrell D’Silva as a bullish judge, while Daniel Lapaine captures the volatility of the brilliant but doomed Loevborg, and Fenella Woolgar is just right as Mrs Elvsted, Loevborg’s intellectual collaborator and the terrified friend of Hedda’s schooldays, a woman “addicted to her anxieties”, according to Brain Friel.

A production then that sheds new light on an old classic and provides a richly rewarding evening in the theatre.

 

Hedda Gabler

Runs until November 10.
Box office: 0844 871 7628

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