LOUIS SHANKAR gives Hedda Gabler a qualified thumbs-up.
ADC Theatre, 7.45 PM, 29th April – 3rd May, £10/8.
Hedda Gabler tells the tragic tale of Hedda Tesman (maiden name Gabler), who has just committed herself to a loveless marriage to an academic, George. Upon returning from their honeymoon, they discover that Eilert Lövborg, a former colleague of George and an old flame of Hedda, has returned to the city and published a book, soon to be followed by a sequel that could greatly affect George’s career and, with it Hedda’s life. In true Scandiwegian fashion, complex relationships soon erupt and unfortunate incidents unfold.
The production, as a whole, was good. A few opening-night problems – a door that wouldn’t open, a curtain falling down – managed not to detract too much from the intensity of the action. The drama developed steadily and the tragedy grew slowly but surely, although the final climax seemed, unfortunately, somewhat premature. Despite the tragic elements, there were several laughs throughout thanks to well timed and subtly nuanced lines.
In terms of the cast, an intricate portrayal of the eponymous character by Kay Dent shone out. Her Hedda was complex, unpredictable, and fell just the right side of psychotic (much like a good night out in Cambridge). One moment the audience believed her to be good and honest; the next, she was crouching on the floor with a match in her hand, setting paper alight with the glee of a pyromaniac.
Kim Jarvis and Robbie Aird presented tight performances, standing up firmly to both Hedda and each other. Saul Boyer’s George seemed misjudged, though: he bumbled around the stage, overly confused given his supposed academic brilliance.
The stylisation did, generally, work with the production. Sleek, Scandinavian design permeated the set and the transparent divide, used to created a second space at the rear of the stage, was intelligent and well-used. The costumes were simple and effective, with Hedda’s effortlessly stylish outfits making her stand out – and the decision for her to change onstage added an overt allure to her character.
The vines mentioned throughout the publicity – “I can see him. With a crown of vine leaves in the air”- slowly encroached on the house as Hedda’s dreams began to suffocate her. Although clever in principle, the device soon became too obtuse and caused the subtlety of this quote to be lost. And the disembodied mannequins that appeared sporadically still remain a mystery…
The modernisation of the script was clever: emails were sent instead of letters, a laptop replaced a handwritten manuscript, an iPad was used to show holiday photos. Altogether, this made Hedda seem more both relatable and more isolated; it made the tragedy become all the more real.
This is a thoughtful rendition of Ibsen’s classic play. Despite a few poor decisions, with a bit of polishing and refinement, it has the potential to be a really interesting and involving production.