Hedda Gabler – Review – Hull New Theatre
Hedda Gabler – Review
Hull New Theatre, November 2017
by Karl Hornsey
The critically acclaimed National Theatre tour of Henrik Ibsen’s Hedda Gabler arrived at the newly refurbished Hull New Theatre this week, starring Lizzy Watts as the eponymous bored housewife, struggling to cope with married life after an extended honeymoon with her academic husband.
The credentials behind this production carry huge weight. Adapted by Olivier award-winning playwright Patrick Marber and directed by Olivier and Tony-award winner Ivo van Hove, this a modern telling of a classic that was first performed in 1891; a story that still holds a great mystique more than 120 years later.
The role is regarded as one of the great female parts in film and theatre, and on this performance it is easy to see why.
Let’s be frank, Hedda is not a nice person. In fact, she has too many negative characteristics to list here, but her demons are at the very heart of the play and give the audience a decision to make.
Yes, she is tiresome, self-centred, cruel and manipulative, thoroughly disinterested in those around her other than as her own playthings, but she is also, certainly in this production, funny, perceptive and, if you search deep down into her soul, maybe a woman who deserves sympathy and understanding.
How you define Hedda probably goes a long way to how you also see the other characters, particularly her seemingly oblivious husband, played here by Abhin Galeya. One moment I feel sorry for him, used by Hedda for her own entertainment, the next I dislike him for being such a sop.
Enter mutual friend Judge Brack, who starts off as something of a charming rogue, clearly with a ‘more than just friends’ history with Hedda, and who, in an outstanding performance by Adam Best, develops into a pivotal role in the play, exuding more and more menace as events begin to unravel.
The claustrophobia of Hedda’s tedious existence is beautifully represented by the sparse set, designed by Jan Versweyveld, which is effectively a large white box of a living room, that accommodates the seven-strong cast perfectly, adding to the sense of frustration that Hedda feels as characters come and go, leaving her on stage at all times, trapped and with seemingly no way out.
Our seats near the front also gave us the chance to admire Versweyveld’s brilliant lighting, including a large glass window installed to mark the passing of day into night and back into day, as the tale heads towards its dramatic conclusion.
I have no doubt audiences will love this tour, even if their feelings towards Hedda are confused. The performances are pitch perfect, with Watts affecting just the right balance of fragility and mischief, yet not stealing the show from the others, most notably Best in his role as Brack.
I left the theatre wanting to know more about Hedda’s life and why she had become the tortured soul we saw before us, and that is as good a reason to me as any to go and see this thought-provoking production.
Top image: Ellie Kurttz