About Time You Saw: Hedda GabblerBy Gilly Hopper
Set in a room made entirely of walls, Ibsen’s Hedda Gabler begins in the main room of the Tesman’s new home. The décor, designed by Jan Versweyveld, is stark is stark, with flowers resting in empty paint cans substituting vases. A linear pattern is repeated along the walls of this doorless room while vertical blinds suggest a grid-like structure and captive environment. The atmosphere is stifling, the light is blinding.
Ivo van Hove, in his directorial National Theatre debut, presents a modern production of Ibsen’s masterpiece, reversioned by Patrick Marber. A suspenseful work, despite it’s known and inevitable outcome, this modernised Hedda Gabler is pacey and pungent piece freed from Victorian diction.
Newlywed Hedda, played by Ruth Wilson (The Affair) brings a commanding and demonic quality to the role – part spoilt little rich girl, part haunted artist. A cocktail of hysteria and wit, ‘life for Hedda is a farce, which isn’t worth seeing through to the end.’ Driven by a desperate desire to act rather than to be acted on, Wilson portrays Hedda as a woman who wants to escape. Trapped in a love triangle of mediocrity, she chooses the negative way out, taking revenge on her former lover Eilert Lovborg (Chukwudi Iwuji) and the masterpiece he created not with her but with shy Thea Elvsted (Sinead Matthews).
Perhaps the night’s greatest draw lies in the charged scenes shared by Ruth Wilson and Rafe Spall (Brack). Other powered pairings include Hedda’s relationship with her whinny academic American husband Tesman (Kyle Soller) and a heightened vulnerability is presented in her relations with Lovborg (Chukwudi Iwuji). The subtext of Ibsen’s writings provide a subtle suggestion that Hedda’s initial relationship with Lovborg was sexually abusive. ‘Building walls around scenes of damaged innocence’ Hedda’s actions may be viewed as one’s of revenge. Seeping through this compelling commentary on womanhood and victimhood, sound designer Tom Gibbons intensifies the onstage oppression through pulsating figures, monotonous percussion and blasts of Joni Mitchell’s “Blue.”
A stand out in the National Theatre’s 2016 tome.
Hedda Gabler is playing at the National Theatre, Lyttelton Theatre, until 21 March 2017