The National Theatre doing Ibsen was never going to be a cheerful affair but even I was a little taken aback by the bleak and seemingly disorganised set as presented in Ivo van Hove latest retelling of Hedda Gabler currently playing at Edinburgh’s Festival Theatre. My first and most profound thought was how much the bare, plaster panels resembled the padding of an asylum cell. I found myself wondering what madness lurked within before the play had even begun. This feeling of dread and disconcerted uncertainty was compounded by the figure slumped at a battered upright piano and the random, discordant notes that issued forth.
The play, once it gets going, is a relatively standard structure which is centred around the detached and somewhat insulated existence of the title character. Other places and people exist but not for her. Her references to other characters as ‘my husband’ or ‘that woman’ adds to that air of isolation and separateness.
The integral theme in Hedda Gabler is manipulation. The simple but wonderful line towards the end of ‘You made me’ emphasises the ambiguity around who is manipulating whom. A key question that is not explicitly resolved asks when is the intended outcome horrific and when is the outcome unintended and out of control? I will not give anything away by hinting at who says it or in what circumstances; for that, you need to go and see for yourself.
Hedda Gabler is exquisitely acted with just the right mix of mania, naivety and sinister intent. At times I found it a little much but not often and to recognisable effect. Well worth a look. Running until 21 October 2017.
By J A. Warnock
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