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Hedda Gabler (Susan Elkin reviews)


If you’re going to present Ibsen’s 1890 masterpiece in a freely modern version by a cutting edge playwright such as Patrick Marber then you really need to sort out the glaring historical incongruities. It grates, for example, to have characters one minute discussing whether or not to use Christian names and the next asking “Where did you park?” Exactly when and where are we supposed to be?

Ruth Wilson as troubled, discontented, bored newly married Hedda is a highly charismatic actor to watch. She has a way with a cryptic half smile and a gift for eloquent stillness. Rafe Spall as the dangerous, manipulative Judge Brack is a terrific stage presence and the extraordinary scene in which he dribbles, spits and spatters stage blood over Wilson certainly has impact even if its purpose and symbolism remain obscure. Ibsen’s original text, of course, uses (a lot of) words and little on-stage physical violence.

Playing on the Littleton’s large stage, stripped right back and bleak with a much white light courtesy of designer Jan Versweyveld, Kyle Soller looks distractingly like Prince Harry. He is solid as the decent, more sinned against then sinning, husband Tesman. Sinead Matthews weeps and pleads as Mrs Elvsted and there’s pleasing work from Chukwudi Iwuji as Lovborg.

This isn’t Hedda Gabler as you’ve ever seen it before though. Director Ivo van Hove has – I’m afraid – succumbed to gimmicky self-indulgence in places. There’s far too much wafty music, for instance. It and the on stage piano add nothing. At one point it looks as if Wilson is about to burst into song – Hedda Gabler the Musical, anyone? She doesn’t but moments like that, which are presumably meant to be thoughtful, actually mean that the piece loses pace.

 First published by Sardines
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Susan Elkin Susan Elkin is an education journalist, author and former secondary teacher of English. She was Education and Training Editor at The Stage from 2005 - 2016
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