Review: Hedda Gabler

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Norwegian playright Henrik Ibsen’s themes of choice – female confinement, ghosts of girlfriends past, and suicide. Hedda Gabler did not disappoint. The play depicts a spell in the life of Hedda, a period that is in all its tedium and foreshadowing, “a stopping place on the line” of her nuptial and life journey.

Hedda is “bored bored bored.” She’s recently married and utterly miserable. Bitterly disappointed with her husband and post-nuptials life, she craves control as a way to occupy herself. She’d like to play puppet-master but is too involved, too much a trapped pawn to do anything other than meddle haphazardly, impulsively and recklessly with the action and with others’ emotions.

Mishia Leggatt gave a haunting performance of this complex woman. Her Hedda was taut and terse. Her captivating, sombre voice showed us just how drab and lacklustre Hedda’s world is, and belied the desperation beneath the cold-hearted façade. Her husband George Tesman, played endearingly by Seb Allum, stood in stark and humorous contrast – an inherently, irritatingly good-willed man, with a cloddish manner, oblivious to the tension that racked his wife.

Alice Gold was brilliant as Miss Tesman, the overbearing aunt – a fairly one-dimensional creation on Ibsen’s part of a simple, maudlin, kind woman, but brought to life by Gold – a really professional performance. Eilert Løevborg is Hedda’s former flame. The character profile is that of a corrupting but supposedly reformed man, a recently famous novelist – I pictured more sobriety and sexual tension, a Lord Byron-style portrayal. Jared Liebmiller’s Løevborg was much closer to the truth – jumpy, restive, clutching at straws relationship-wise, an alcoholic at heart with all the insecurities of an addicted man.

Hannah Ritchie gave an excellent performance as Thea Elvstead, Løevborg’s ‘collaborator,’ (the relationship is never fully defined); a trapped, continuously let down woman who teeters between self-liberation and another prison, devotion to Løevborg. And then there was Judge Brack. Ebe Bamgboye was an excellent Brack; sharp-eyed and sharp-tongued, his performance was pithy and captivating – he portrayed the subtly tyrannous and tension-building role of the Judge fantastically. Ibsen hadn’t written a very pivotal part for Berthe the maid, but she was played perfectly by Sophie Samuda.

The staging was stark and minimalistic; all the action takes place within a structure resembling a kind of wedding like gazebo, bleached of colour and containing select pieces of period furniture. It is inside this that the characters are confined – Hedda especially, who doesn’t leave the stage until the very end. Fleeting atmospheric interludes propelled and displayed the tensions within the play – a moody, cold blue glow engulfed the stage, whilst music played, and the characters passed one another like ghosts with Hedda dancing stiffly. Later on the glow is red, Hedda sits at the front of the stage as if marooned on a ship, and she throws papers off the gazebo into the fire – perhaps the most impassioned scene, but performed with all the starch of Victorian-era Scandinavian countenance. A woman at breaking point, Hedda is a ticking time bomb and leaves a train wreck in her wake. Jump on it while you can: today is the second performance of the Hedda Gabler.

Despite the inopportune release of the National Theatre’s production of the same play, there was a fantastic turn-out at the Byre last night for Sonder Theatre’s, and I don’t think we were at all sold short – the quality and professionalism was at a peak. I was engrossed throughout, the themes were hard-hitting, the acting was frank, and I am now much more marriage-phobic than ever before. * * * * *

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