Theatre Review: Hedda Gabler – National Theatre  

Ruth Wilson as troubled, discontented, bored newly married Hedda is a highly charismatic actor to watch. She has a way with a cryptic half smile and a gift for eloquent stillness. Rafe Spall as the dangerous, manipulative Judge Brack is a terrific stage presence and the extraordinary scene in which he dribbles, spits and spatters stage blood over Wilson certainly has impact even if its purpose and symbolism remain obscure. Kyle Soller is solid as the decent, more sinned against then sinning, husband Tesman. Sinéad Matthews weeps and pleads convincingly as Mrs Elvsted and there’s pleasing work from Chukwudi Iwuji as Lovborg.

Ibsen’s original text, of course, uses (a lot of) words and many things are inferred from sub–text rather than spelled out. And that’s part of the problem with this production. Moreover, if you’re going to present Ibsen’s 1890 masterpiece in a freely modern version by a cutting edge playwright such as Patrick Marber then you really need to sort out the glaring historical incongruities. It grates, for example, to have characters one minute discussing whether or not to use Christian names and the next asking “Where did you park?” Exactly when and where are we supposed to be?

The Lyttleton’s large stage is stripped right back and bleak with much white light courtesy of designer Jan Versweyveld. This isn’t Hedda Gabler as you’ve ever seen it before though. Director Ivo van Hove has – I’m afraid – succumbed to gimmicky self–indulgence in places. There’s far too much wafty music, for instance. It, like the on stage piano, add nothing. At one point it looks as if Wilson is about to burst into song – Hedda Gabler the Musical, anyone? She doesn’t but moments like that, which are presumably meant to be thoughtful, actually mean that the piece loses pace.

Review by Susan Elkin