Sunday, 19 February 2017

'Hedda Gabler' at the National Theatre

The new production of 'Hedda Gabler' is currently running at the National Theatre. Now, I'm not a tremendous fan of Henrik Ibsen and I've managed to avoid seeing 'Hedda Gabler' for my entire life but the play has caught up with me. I don't have anything against Ibsen it's just that I only have one life and sometimes I just have to spend some quality time combing my beard (Mr Ibsen favoured mutton chops for some obscure reason just to be awkward).

The first thing is the staging, that big bare stage of the Lyttelton Theatre. There's nothing on that big stage apart from an upright piano, a tatty old sofa, a table and chair in the corner, buckets of flowers and a seat for the maid. The maid is sitting there as you walk in and so is a woman with her back to the audience twiddling the keys of the piano. The walls are roughly plastered and painted, waiting to be decorated. It's really quite barren up there, sterile like the lives we're about to see.

Hedda is a nasty piece of work, completely self-centred and unfeeling to those around her and who, for some obscure reason, seem to love her and trust her. She is all about 'me' and gets huffy when her new husband says that she can't have the butler she wants because they can't afford one until he gets promoted at the university. I find it hard to have any empathy or compassion for characters like that

Looking back at the play, the only performance I really remember is that of Ruth Wilson as Hedda, constantly and totally in character down to the little side glances of hate and despair. I think despair is an appropriate word for Hedda since her self-centredness has trapped her where she is and she's desperate to escape, but escape to where? There is nowhere. So she starts to destroy the lives of those around her but somehow keep their love and friendship. That's an usual skill to have.

My favourite moment was when Hedda throws the bunches of flowers from the buckets around the room in a fit of pique and then proceeds to staple them to the walls of the flat - of, course, they may not have much furniture but it's always useful to keep a staple-gun handy. It was just so unexpected and, let's face it, daft, that it sticks in the memory. My least favourite was when the Judge spits gobbets of tomato soup onto her as she cringes on the floor near the end having finally been caught out. Very unpleasant and misogynist and Rafe Spall seemed to be in his best sneery, shouty element for that.

Overall, I can't say that I liked the production but I appreciated it. Ruth Wilson was great as Hedda and out-shone the rest of the cast (particularly the men who seemed to be on a downer the night we saw it). At least I can now go *tick* to 'Hedda Gabler'.

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