Tuesday, 30 January 2018

REVIEW: Hedda Gabler at New Victoria Theatre, Woking

“Hedda and Tesman have just returned from their honeymoon and the relationship is already in trouble. Trapped but determined, Hedda tries to control and manipulate those around her, only to see her own world unravel.”

Hedda Gabler is “one of the greatest dramatic parts in theatre and regarded as the female Hamlet” – so deliciously meaty and intense in its scope that any actress with any gravitas should want to play her. Created by Henrik Ibsen, his play – the aptly named “Hedda Gabler” was published in 1890. The version currently touring the UK has been edited by Patrick Marber, who just happens to be one of my favourite playwrights of all time. I would describe Marber as the mastermind of dramatising sexual politics, so for Hedda Gabler, a play with the tagline “Just Married. Bored Already. Hedda longs to be free.” I was very excited to see what the evening would bring, however it would appear I was one of few as it seems Woking’s New Victoria Theatre was at about 15% capacity that evening: an empty Grand Circle, a smattering of faces at the front of the Royal and Stalls with more empty seats than filled. I would not wish performing to an empty auditorium on any production so credit to the cast who committed steadfastly despite such a poor turn out. 

Like many, I had heard much about Ruth Wilson (Luther, The Affair) in her triumphant take on the title role at the National Theatre. Lizzy Watts is her successor in this production and admirably tackles the part presenting Hedda as wickedly manipulative but also with real gumption and a surprising level of brazenness whilst maintaining that all important level of quiet psychosis. 

The set was very minimalist. A wide-open studio flat space with a piano, a sofa, some buckets with flowers and a huge window with blinds. I was beyond baffled how such a simplistic set could somehow be utilised so poorly. Even from a Premium seat in Row E of the stalls, I was subject to actors blocking each other’s faces time and time again as they sat in a straight line across the side of the stage. Even if the idea was to make the audience feel like this was a fly-on-the-wall observation of a scene and not a direct performance to the front, it prevented us from seeing the actors so the effect was wasted. 

The characters are tragically fake and unnaturally spoken. Nothing felt real – all
movement was over-thought and choreographed so there was no authenticity to any of it. Even moments of poignancy were greeted with laughter: Hedda throws flowers across her home and staples them to the walls… This is a woman having a breakdown, not performing a comedic farce and yet people laughed. Perhaps hysteria was beginning to settle in for us as well as her?

Perhaps it is an ignorance which prevents me from seeing this production as the classic master-piece it is widely-regarded as, however like many members of the paying public at the theatre, I don’t always fully know what to expect. All I can say for this production was that by the Interval, enough was enough. 

It would seem that nothing can save poor Hedda in this terribly monotonous play. Hedda is not a Hamlet, but more a headache.

Review by Joanne Hardwood 

Rating: ★
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