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A CurtainUp Review
By Lizzie Loveridge
What strikes me in this Ibsen play, as it often does in his other works, is how flawed all of his characters are. Not a single one can wholeheartedly engage our sympathies, summon up that identifying rapport, have us rooting for them. Hedda is spoilt, Tesman is weak, Brack is vain, Aunt Juju is foolish, Eilert is a drunk, Thea is a victim. The anomaly is that despite the weaknesses of these characters, we love the play. Ibsen has constructed Hedda Gabler very carefully: the first scenes dramatically build up to Hedda's entrance by talking about her, anticipating her arrival onstage.
Eve Best's Hedda is maybe one of the most unsympathetic. She is spoilt and bored and this boredom exhibits itself as mischief making, manipulation and nastiness. Eve Best seems to be carving a career for herself playing heroic and dangerous women and she is excelling in these roles. Her Hedda is less the beautiful victim of a life lacking in passion and more a very angry, spoilt and resentful woman, a man in a woman's body. Her weak husband fails in career terms where Hedda would have succeeded given her ruthlessness and determination, were it not that these opportunities were barred to women. Although she mentions a career in politics, I don't remember before hearing Hedda asking Judge Brack (Iain Glen) whether Tesman (Benedict Cumberbatch) could still be Prime Minister, an undoubtedly naïve hope. Eyre's version left me questioning how Hedda could ever have thought Tesman could give her the kind of material life she expected, let alone be the powerful personality she desired in a husband. Best switches from being openly rude to the aunt to buttering up Thea in an obviously manipulative way. We can well imagine her pulling Thea's hair at school. When Judge Brack finally gives the full details about Eilert Loevborg's death, Hedda is upset by the lack of style, more concerned about his being in the brothel and where the bullet lodged than that he has taken his own life.
Iain Glen's Judge Brack must be one of the most physically attractive, dashing with a small beard and medium length blonde hair, he is unusually elegant and sophisticated. He is very much a man of the world, a detached observer. Benedict Cumberbatch's earnest Tesman has no emotional intelligence with regard to his wife as he fusses with the aunts and we can well see how the long honeymoon must have seemed interminable to Hedda. Thea Elvstead has been thought brave to flaunt convention to leave her husband to follow Eilert Loevborg but Lisa Dillon makes it clear that she is pursuing an obsessive romance rather than courageous. It is a cosy scene as Thea and George set about recreating Loevborg's book. Jamie Sives' Eilert Loevborg, played with a strong Scots accent, is a tortured genius but careless and as unheroic as his end.
The Tesmans' dark sitting room is a traditional oppressive Victorian drawing room with the rear screen painted as panelling but made of gauze so we can see behind it the dominant portrait of Gabler Pere, erect in military uniform. The set is beautifully lit; light falls naturally from the window Hedda goes to, as if trying to break out from the marital prison that she has created for herself. The house is what Tesman has borrowed to give her, what should be material compensation for what the marriage does not offer. However it is not enough and in any case she tells Brack it was just a joke that she wanted to live there.
Richard Eyre has developed some ideas in his fine production Hedda Gabler but not strayed so far from the original for it to be unrecognisable. Again and again I found myself supressing a gasp at Hedda's brutal selfishness. Brilliantly staged behind the gauze screen, Hedda finally shoots herself with one of the pistols she has inherited from her father. She finds courage and rises above the banality of her marriage, leaving Judge Brack to make that most mundane of comments, "People don't do such things."
LINK TO OTHER REVIEWS OF THE PLAY
Hedda Gabler/Ibsen--Christopher Hampton translation (New York Theatre Workshop- 2004)
Hedda Gabler/Ibsen--Baitz adaptation (Berkshires and Broadway)
Hedda Gabler/Ibsen (Century Center Ibsen series)
Cross Dressing Spoof
Claudia Legare/Ward, Robert-- opera version
Mendes at the Donmar
Peter Ackroyd's History of London: The Biography
Retold by Tina Packer of Shakespeare & Co. Click image to buy.
6, 500 Comparative Phrases including 800 Shakespearean Metaphors by CurtainUp's editor.
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