Based on Norwegian playwright Henrik Ibsen’s classic 1890 text, a new adaptation by Terje Tveit takes to the stage. Often regarded as the female “Hamlet”, the monstrosity that is Hedda Gabler still fascinates, toying with acquaintances and family members the way a God does with mere mortals. However, at just over two hours long with no interval, cleverly woven intricacies and nuances may go over your head.
Fresh from her honeymoon feeling increasingly restless and discontent, Hedda wrestles with a hungry, dangerous emptiness lying in wait. When a catalyst in the shape of a school friend arrives with news of a former acquaintance, events snowball, spiralling out of control and result in tragic consequences.
The play is atmospheric and disturbing, a feeling of claustrophobia pervades. There are clever metaphorical reflections of Hedda’s cluttered mind including the set. The dim, hollow lighting, that grows appropriately brighter or darker throughout the production, the sea of crumpled white paper on the stage, crinkling with secrets and seemingly closing in, the music, strings like in parts is foreboding, warning signs, the mist effect that shrouds the actors, a cloud hanging over their heads and of course Hedda. It is a delicious, dramatic role; the play is hers, so unapologetically ruthless, so defiantly cruel. There have been many depictions of Hedda Gabler but actress Sarah Head’s portrayal is commanding, restrained and sexy, portraying a woman whose thirst for power and manipulation knows no bounds. This Hedda is not a victim. She sheds new light on the term “alpha female.” She controls her witless husband with an effortless disdain, rips her friend Thea to shreds for daring to have a relationship with writer Eilert Lovborg, the mysterious man from Hedda’s past and for her own amusement, her strange relationship with family friend Brack borders on foreplay, sexually charged and ominous.
Sporadically gripping with some lovely threads, it’s difficult viewing at times purely because it’s too lengthy. It needs either an intermission or cutting down. Some of the more underwhelming scenes could have been taken out to make for a tighter production. This version is stripped of period clutter but still feels weighty. There is no real context as to why Hedda is the way she is. From an audience perspective, she would have been a more rounded character had elements of that been woven in. Ibsen’s play still feels relevant but it would be interesting to see a truly modern adaptation of the play. If like me your concentration span peaks at just over an hour, you may need a back up plan to stop yourself drifting off.
Wednesday 3 to Sunday 14th February 7.45pm
Booking: 0208 237 1111