Review: Hedda Gabler

Rosa Price 6 March 2019
Image Credit: Hedda Gabler via Facebook

★★★

This production of Hedda Gabler bills the play as ‘remarkable’ and ‘realistic’, and dealt far better with the naturalism of Ibsen’s play than with its touches of stylised symbolism. Although it has some preoccupations in common with Ibsen’s earlier A Doll’s House, Hedda Gabler is a stranger play, and that strangeness proved troubling for the evening. The period production, of the 1890s, came off fairly well, and gave Inge-Vera Lipsius’ Hedda the right aristocratic and aesthetic hauteur, but it also had several flaws. If it had been realised just a little more fully, the setting would have made characterisation easier and threats of scandal would have seemed more credible. Rather than informing performances, however, it seemed constricting. With the exceptions of Lipsius and William Batty as her despised husband George Tesman, there was at times a distinct distance between the actors and their characters.

The set was flexible, but the actual boards badly constructed and distracting. Similarly, there were problems with hair and costuming that simply looked careless. The production was marred in general by a lack of attention to detail: there were several different pronunciations of Ejlet Loevborg, blocking in larger group scenes went awry, and actors occasionally talked over one another. The lighting was very literal, so much so that it worked well and gave the piece an expressionistic touch, for example in the instantaneous change from an oil lamp to daylight. These moments of weird lighting suited Lipsius’ tightlaced intensity, and bolstered director Erika Price’s most effective work, as Hedda became more powerful through the end of the first and beginning of the second half, but waned as daylight proprieties once again took over.

William Batty made an excellent Tesman, giving a sensitive and sympathetic performance, and was nicely serious and ambitious rather than bumbling. Both Batty and Lipsius were utterly sincere in their characters’ dreams and self-deceptions, and consequently Tesman made a more compelling figure than Jamie Bisping’s Loevborg, a cipher who made Hedda’s passion inexplicable. Tesman and Mrs Elvsted (Kay Benson), as representatives of the modern world, rather dominated the end of the play, leaving the aesthetes Hedda and Brack behind. As Judge Brack, Jesper Eriksson approached a demonic aspect but was somewhat mannered: his threatening air oddly failed when it was time to be truly scary.

Despite strong central performances from Lipsius and Batty, this Hedda Gabler was rather adrift dramatically, at home in domestic minutiae and tending to flounder in more impassioned moments. In short, the production itself was ill-equipped to deal with Ibsen’s fervent moments of strangeness.