Hedda Gabler

Tue 29th April – Sat 3rd May 2014

reviews

Daniel Kozelko

at 00:19 on 30th Apr 2014

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Even if Hedda Gabler herself wouldn’t want me to use these stupid sickly words, I shall. I utterly loved this performance. It took the audience to the peak of morbid fascination with a character as tangled and warped as the vine leaves surrounding her, and then, as if we were its own little play thing, shattered that fascination with blows of death and despair. However, to treat this production as vitriolic and raw would be misleading and even patronising, as it achieves so much more than just that.

Looking into the well-furnished but mostly whitewashed set at the start of the performance, one could not help but get a sense of foreboding. Nisha Emich’s punctuation of the white space with the deep red chair and curtains gave a sense of calm but assertive pressure, the pensive mood only deepened by slightly dissonant house music in the background. Throughout the production the slow deterioration of the set almost denoted the deepened view the audience got of Hedda and the people that surrounded her, with flowing vine leaves only furthering the idea of the turmoil hidden just below the surface of the prim and proper characters.

To praise the cast individually does not do justice to the overall ensemble’s electric interactions. However if forced to pick the highlights from a dazzling array I would first have to highlight Kay Dent’s fascinating portrayal of the borderline psychopath that is Hedda Tesman. She portrayed the character with both coldness and depth that allowed her to eke out some of the most painful moments of the play to their fullest. Furthermore her duologues with Gabriel Cagan’s Judge Brack were at times amusing, but others borderline horrific – particularly in the closing scene where he gains the upper hand over her. Indeed Gabriel Cagan chose his demeanour perfectly to draw parallels and distinctions with the leading lady.

Saul Boyer also performed the role of George Tesman with great merit; the character held his own against Hedda and at the same time was the butt of most of the play’s jokes. Although his characteristic ‘huh’ throughout the play at first struck me as odd and I found his character to jar slightly with that of Juliana Tesman at the beginning, the former became an encouraging part of his character. This allowed the audience to see both how George is a terribly nice person, and yet see quite obviously why Hedda is bored of him. Others of worthy mention are Robbie Aird’s Eilert and Kim Jarvis’ Mrs Elvsted, who shared a delightful passion when paired on the stage. Finally, Chloe France and Em Miles acquitted themselves with distinction in their roles, each adding something to the ensemble’s brilliance.

As I watched this performance, I struggled to criticise anything more than minor errors that arose along the way to the play’s climax. Yes, there was one case of a door sticking, and a very rare stumble over words – but generally the play ran without error and with panache. Furthermore, things that would have stifled some performances were played to the advantage of this one. For example the choice to change Kay Dent’s consume on stage while the set was altered not only neutralised the length of these transitions, but even played them to the advantage of the entire performance.

Hedda Gabler is in many ways a difficult and awkward play to produce. When it premiered in 1891 it was met with negative reviews, and only since then has grown in status. This production meets the play on its journey from 1891 to today and does amazing justice to such a deep and powerful script. Jesse Haughton-Shaw’s production is simply a triumph and should only be regarded as such, as both cast and crew come together to make this simply awesome whole. As the performance neared its conclusion I not only felt the inevitability of the climax, but also the inevitability of the conclusion of my review. I cannot implore you enough to go to see this spectacle of human power and human frailty, and would question any choice to favour another show over this.

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Christy Edwall

at 09:01 on 30th Apr 2014

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Jessie Haughton-Shaw’s production of 'Hedda Gabbler' is attentive to nuance. The set is arranged with great intention in red, white, and cool wood: the mantelpiece, the French windows, and the book case echoing each other; the funereal bouquets of flowers; the telling birdcage on the coffee table; the portrait of the General, Hedda’s father, lurking on the wall. Nor is there less nuance in the movements of Kay Dent as the eponymous heroine, who snaps out of her newly married boredom to vampiricise the lives of others, and who elides the grasp of the men who encircle her, sly and narrow as a cat.

I’ve rarely seen Saul Boyer, who plays Gabbler’s hapless husband, in an unblustering and undynamic role. As a solicitous but obtuse academic, Boyer stands awkwardly, emming and ahhing, trying to please his cold and clever wife. George’s desperation for a professorship, his petulant competition with the unstable but more brilliant Lovborg, and his harping on his ‘special subject’ make Cambridge – no stranger to intellectual competition and wounded ambition – a good venue for the play. Gabriel Cagan is a successful Judge Brack: a bland sexual menace under a smirking, man’s man veneer. Robbie Aird carries off much of Lovborg’s impassioned desperation. Aird’s and Dent’s first scene – in which Gabbler and Lovborg sit on a couch – has considerable chemistry, and their postures, twisted but natural and conspiratorial, were convincing. And together Aird and Kim Jarvis project the boring sincerity of Lovborg and Thea, his pedestrian muse.

The least successful element of the play was the attempt to modernise it by introducing planes, emails, and a laptop for Lovborg. Not only do the modern words stand out – ‘What about the Porsche?’ Hedda asks George, when he tells her they will have to retrench – but they occasionally backfire. Lovborg tells Thea that he’s destroyed his laptop: smashed it and thrown its pieces to be carried by the wind and eventually drift into the river. I doubt smashed computer chips are buoyant. This awkward adaptation disrupts the power of the moment and Lovborg’s desolation.

The architecture of the play – the stillness of the set, Hedda’s sombre dress, and the frequent references to death – means that the audience is prepared for the inevitable finale. While the girls in the row in front of me may have complained about the play being too like Shakespeare – in that the actors never stop talking just before the crisis – I, knowing like the others what was coming, was frozen with adrenalin and anticipation. It’s a credit to the cast for pulling off the shifts of manipulation, tone, and feeling in this monumental play.

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