Hedda Gabler – Gaiety Theare- Review by Frank L.
until 10 March 2018
Hedda Gabler by Henrik Ibsen in a new version by Patrick Marber.
Ibsen’s play was first performed in January 1891. It was a time when clothing and furnishings were elaborate and the action took place primarily in a drawing room in small-town Sweden. This structure by its very nature imposed all sorts of conventions and restrictions on the dramatis personae. Marber’s version is placed firmly in the twenty-first century which is underlined by Jan Versweyveld’s set with its large room devoid of almost all furnishings apart from a piano, a sofa, and an ominous recessed display cabinet with two pistols.
The spartan and temporary feel is further heightened by the grey plain panelled walls and no carpet. There is an intercom and a large picture window with a substantial rectangular opening backed by stainless steel. There are no soft furnishings. It is not a space in which to luxuriate. It is the new home of Tesman (Abhin Galeya) and his bride Hedda (Lizzy Watts) who have just returned from a six month honeymoon. She wears, for the most part, a simple chemise but it could be a skimpy indoor dress. He is a young academic who by his marriage has moved socially into a more insouciant world. Shortly after their return they are visited by Tesman’s aunt (Christine Kavanagh) who represents his background and also a neighbour Mrs Elvsted (Annabel Bates), who has carved a career for herself in collaboration with Tesman’s academic rival, Lovborg (Richard Pyros). Judge Brack (Adam Best), who also drops by, knows Hedda from the past. It is a small community in a provincial academic town. There is also the maid Berte (Madlena Nedeva), who in this production along with Hedda, never leaves the stage. The entire as a visual experience is miles away from a small town, bourgeois drawing-room in Sweden at the end of the nineteenth century.
Berte’s principal activity is as doorkeeper. She controls the intercom which signifies the arrival of a character each of whom enters the stage from the auditorium. When the audience arrives Berte is sitting on one side of the stage. Hedda sits centre stage with her back to the audience, swathed in black and slumped over the piano. Without any of the usual notices about fire escapes and mobile phones, the performance springs into action almost without warning. Throughout the play the lighting complements the mood as the all pervasive presence of Hedda, in all its vagaries, haunts this awkward space and the diverse personalities who come and go. Hedda is far from content in the world in which she finds herself or which she has created for herself. Its as if she is in a gaol and Berte is a gaoler all of her own making.
The ennui of Hedda is heightened by the music which includes Joni Mitchell’s Blue. There is also a sort of white noise which comes and goes throughout the play and further intensifies the sense of unease. It all adds to the out-of-kilter behaviour of Hedda and those who surround her. It is an unsettling experience.
Hedda Gabler is one of the masterpieces of the European stage. Here is a production which takes it away from its original time slot and locale and places it in the here and now and in a universal space. The action could be in any contemporary town of substance. As is to be expected from the National Theatre (London) all the actors perform to an impressive standard. It is an unsettling production. However the times in which we live are just that. Go see this production and ponder the unstable world of Hedda Gabler.
The National Theatre’s production of Ibsen’s masterpiece HEDDA GABLER
A new version by Patrick Marber, Directed by IVO VAN HOVE