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Hedda Gabler (National Theatre)

Ibsen’s difficult late play comes to the National Theatre in a new version by Patrick Marber, directed by Ivo van Hove.  In a modern production, set in one white box, minimally furnished, and airless except for one window (adding to the oppression of the story), it begins with two figures already on stage, one sitting motionless on a chair to the side, and one playing the piano, occasionally flinging themselves forward on to the keys in frustration or despair.

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The former is the maid, Berte (Éva Magyar), who throughout the play is present, seeing everything along with the audience, but ignoring all just as she is largely ignored.  The latter is the titular Hedda Gabler (Ruth Wilson), newly married to academic Dr Tesman (Kyle Soller, here using his American accent rather than the one we have grown used to in his appearances as the doomed Francis Poldark on television) but bored and without purpose.

“Academics are no fun!” she whines, and even stapleguns flowers to the walls when she is particularly fed up.  Not for this new bride the glow of happiness – even the expensive house she now lives in is theirs purely through a quirk of fate, a caprice that made Tesman think she had “set her heart on it.”  She is trapped in circumstances she is powerless to change, in a cage from which she can not break free.

For Tesman’s part he can’t believe his luck, not just that the General’s daughter has chosen him, but that he has “special access” to her body.  This makes him just as unsympathetic a character as their supposed friend, Brack (Rafe Spall) who is a smooth but repellent sexual predator who, in the final few scenes of the play, defiles and abuses Hedda in a most appalling and shocking way, helped by an inspired use of prop design to provide the gore often missing from this play.

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Hedda Gabler is a proud woman, but not in any way a nice one.  She torments her school friend, Mrs Elsted (Sinéad Matthews) and ruins her life, under the cloak of supposed kindness.  She goads the weak-willed career rival of her husband’s, Lovborg, her former lover, into desolation and destruction while fantasizing of the beauty of his “wearing vine leaves in his hair”.  She lies, cheats, manipulates, and destroys.  She is a viper in her words, too, hurting the kindly but interfering Tesman aunt (Kate Duchêne), and pushing away her devoted husband.

This production may rely too much on musical interludes (‘Blue’ by Joni Mitchell appears several times, and ‘Hallelujah’ the Leonard Cohen song, as rendered by Jeff Buckley – but clumsily edited – cuts into one scene), but its sparseness and the decision to stage much of the action on the fringes of the stage worked well for me, as it forces the eye to follow the characters as they separate or interact.  Entrances and exits are blurred, so we end up unsure as to the proportions of the room(s) we are viewing.  A video entry phone is the only concession to technology.

Marber’s adaptation may bring more laughs to the fore than the piece requires, but there is no denying the cumulative power of script, direction, and performance.  Wilson, Soller, Spall and Matthews are all excellent, with only Chukwudi Iwuji’s Lovborg missing that final note of mental disintegration that his fate would seemingly require.   Hedda’s final act may shock some, “People do not do such things”, but at least the events of this production are delivered in such a way that she clearly does not have a choice if she is not to spend her days in a living hell.

Image credit: Jan Versweyveld.


Theatre review: Long Day’s Journey Into Night

This new production of Eugene O’Neill’s classic play (first staged in 1956) visits Richmond and Milton Keynes before a planned run in the West End from April 2012.

The plot can be described as somewhat melodramatic, and in a way a blueprint for what we now recognise as basic soap opera plotting – this in no way diminishes the stature or power of the original play, but gives it a contemporary relevance which could be lost in the many references to dope fiends, consumption, and the kind of reckless property profiteering which was engaged in at the time the play is set (around 1912).

James Tyrone is an actor who failed by becoming a great commercial success in one part; in one lengthy reflective speech he remembers being praised by the great Edwin Booth for the technique he brought to his Othello and other great parts.  He still retains three sets of Shakespeare’s plays but knows his chance has gone.  His wife Mary seems at first a bundle of nerves but we soon realise the truth is far more disturbing as she is a long-time addict to morphine, which disturbs and destroys her mind with every dose.

Their children are as dysfunctional as one might expect, growing up in the Tyrone household.  James Jr is a hard drinking loafer, with no job and a fondness for whores, while Edmund is sensitive and fond of poetry (Swinburne, Rossetti) and is suffering from consumption – just like his grandfather on his mother’s side, who died of it.  The brothers both love and hate each other, and their relationship, plus the relationship each of them have with their parents (and the parents with each other) are explored throughout the four acts (slightly abridged) of this play.

David Suchet, as Tyrone Sr, has been promoted heavily as the star of this play, and is largely effective, although his accent is a little unsettled (there’s American in there, and Irish, as you would expect, but also at times a hint of Jewish).  In the quieter passages of the play and those with flashes of humour he is more convincing than in the times where he is required to show passion and anger – still, this could change as the play’s run continues.

As Mary, American actress Laurie Metcalf is hampered by an unconvincing wig and at times inaudible delivery, choosing to speak some of the character’s passages rather too quietly or quickly.  But as a ‘ghost in the past’ she does convince as a hopeless addict slowly closing herself off from the world and her family.  There have been many great Mary Tyrones in the past, and she has a lot to live up to.  I found her part was not quite as powerful or moving as it should be, and that her scenes with younger son Edmund disappointed.

As the children, Kyle Soller shows himself to be a fine young actor in the difficult and pivotal role of Edmund.  He is quite mesmerising at times, even when on the sidelines observing the more vocal members of his family.  Trevor White is not quite at the same level and I found James Jr rather a tiresome character, rather one-dimensional – I didn’t really care much about whether or not he returned from his binge in the whorehouse or not.  And his speech about being jealous of his sibling doesn’t quite work.

Taken as a whole, I went to this production of Long Day’s Journey Into Night with quite high expectations, which were not quite met.  However, I feel that any shortcomings might be addressed in its regional runs before West End opening, and look forward to seeing  what the professional press make of it.


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"To waste one second of one's life is a betrayal of one's self! I wonder what's on television?"

Retraction Watch

Tracking retractions as a window into the scientific process

Loud Alien Noize

Revealing the True Origins of Silence

Pfeiffer Pfilms and Meg Movies

Blog titling at its best

Emily Baycroft

Freelance Theatre Producer and Administrator

MTAS

WE MADE BADGES COOL AGAIN

A Red Lip And A Nude Shoe

Dior Dreams On A Kmart Budget

is there room for me to sew?

Quilting, Reading and the Movies

The Case for Jeanette and Nelson

"Whaddya gonna do? I love her. I think she loves me." -Nelson Eddy on the Jack Parr Show, 1960

STARDUST AND SHADOWS

Opinions on Classic Hollywood , B Movies, Grindhouse, SF film , Classic Horror, Film Noir, Books, and related subjects by Canadian film guy TERRY SHERWOOD. (This site is not affiliated with author Charles Foster and his book Stardust and Shadows.)

The Wonderful World of Cinema

This blog is all about cinema, movies and stars of every decades. It's wonderful!

Movie classics

Thoughts on older movies, especially those from the 1930s to 1950s.

Hiss and Tell

Featuring Gryff, the angry diabetic cat, and the humans who serve him

TESSA BARRIE'S LOST BLOGS

LIFE'S TOO SHORT TO BE NICHE ...

[insert title here]

just one of many things i'm still trying to figure out

buchanblog

A trip down Memorex lane

The Phantom Frame

Information about the creative works of Gareth Preston

West End Blog

Bringing you independent, honest, experienced reviews of current theatre shows. We believe theatre is something truly magical and can be enjoyed by everyone.

Archive Television Musings

"To waste one second of one's life is a betrayal of one's self! I wonder what's on television?"

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