Saturday 29 December 2012

Hedda Gabler

Old Vic, London
27th September, 2012

After studying Henrik Ibsen’s A Doll’s House for A-Level, I’ve never been hugely engaged with his work and although I enjoyed his much more controversial play Hedda Gabler at the Old Vic, I still don’t quite see how his work is just as relevant today as it was in the late 19th century – no matter how many times the programme notes tell me.

The performances were all first class in Anna Mackmin’s new production, with Adrian Scarborough particularly impressing as Hedda’s husband George Tesman. He makes sure that he doesn’t convey a buffoon of a man, but instead portrays an intelligent, ambitious and loving husband with excellence. Anne Reid also nicely plays his aunt, injecting sometimes needed touches of humour. Daniel Lapaine’s performance in All My Sons in 2010 was brilliant, and he matches that in this just as short appearance in Hedda Gabler, giving a well-paced and passionate performance as the failed Loevberg.

Sheridan Smith does well at taking on the title role, renowned for being the female equivalent of Hamlet for its complexities. She successfully conveys the snappy, youthful independence of Hedda and strongly shows the turmoil that she goes through. The emotional scene where she burns her husband’s papers whilst in tears was particularly memorable but her performance didn’t have as much of an impact on me as I felt it should have done. Comparing it to some of the other great performances I’ve seen of complex, well-known characters, Smith’s didn’t quite live up to them.

Lez Brotherston’s set was brilliant. The entrapment of addiction represented by the low-ceilinged set in Long Day’s Journey into Night earlier this year was shown in a completely different way in Hedda Gabler. The claustrophobia of Hedda’s world, where she feels governed in a patriarchal society, is reflected through a glass wall set that represents a prism. It goes back by quite a way and also contains a middle room where the fatal ending takes place. Indeed, the set feels light and airy but as Hedda shuts herself in that middle room for the play’s last moments, it represents how Hedda feels entrapped.

Paul Englishby’s music gave the production a cinematic quality that is fitting as the programme told us that Ibsen is best played with a heightened feel. Indeed, once Hedda has shot herself, the subsequent moments were played out in an-almost over the top manner. It’s extremely dramatic, watchable and in my opinion was one of the best moments of the production, even if some critics did disagree that Darrel D’Silva’s Judge smearing bloody hands down the glass door was a little too melodramatic.

Although this was an impressive new version (by Brian Friel), I wasn’t the only audience member in the Upper Circle who felt that the evening at some points was a little – dare I say – dull.

Hedda Gabler ran at the Old Vic until 10th November, 2012.

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