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Hedda Tesman (Susan Elkin reviews)

Hedda Tesman
By Cordelia Lynn, After Henrik Ibsen.
society/company: Chichester Festival Theatre (professional)(directory)
performance date: 05 Sep 2019
venue: Minerva Theatre, Chichester PO19 6AP
reviewer/s: Susan Elkin (Sardines review)

Hedda Tesman production photos by Johan Persson


It seems to be a good week for radical reworkings of very well known material. Twenty four hours after The Strange Case of Jekyll and Hyde, courtesy of Arrows and Traps at Jack Studio Theatre, comes this compelling and innovative 21st century response to Hedda Gabler.

Hedda and George Tesman, both in late middle age, have just moved into a large riral house near a Britsh university so that he can take up his longed for professorship. The servant, Bertha becomes an agency cleaner, representing ordinary life. Thea is reworked as the estranged daughter, Heather never wanted, in a relationship with the apparently reformed alcoholic, Elijah whose book manuscript everyone wants. Then there’s Brack, in this version, a fellow academic and lawyer. General Gabler’s portrait dominates the stage and the psotols are so prominently on stage that you never forget, in two and a half hours where they are. All the elements of Ibsen’s play are still there. The result is ingenious, imaginative, effective and plausible.

It’s a strong cast dominated (physically as well as artistically) by Hadyn Gwynne as Hedda. She flounces with ennui, glitters with disturbed menace, gives every impression of Lady Macbeth-like suppressed mania as well as delivering some unforgettable killer lines with such aplomb that they’re funny as well as appalling.

Anthony Calf works engagingly with her as the anxious, dull George trying (and failing) to care for her, safeguard his own interests and behave decently to the rest of his family. Natalie Simpson (whom I saw and admired recently at Park Theatre in Honour) makes Thea suitably and believably angry, anxious and intense.

Jonathan Hyde is splendid as the sneering, amoral, self interested Brack. Few actors do disdain as well as Hyde does and this performance does not disappoint. Rebecca Oldfield is terrific too, arriving on stage with her cleaning bottles and everyday reality. Who ever would have thought the sound of a floor being mopped could be so eloquent?

Ibsen is very interested in the toxicity of intergenerational relationships, behaviour and actions. Ghosts is another example. So is The Wild Duck. Cordelia Lynn’s Hedda Tesman really runs with that as the tensions and past which have linked, estranged and damaged these people are gradually, devastatingly revealed through a tight script.

First published by Sardines:
Author information
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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