Tag Archives: Christine Kavanagh

REVIEW: Hedda Gabler – Festival Theatre, Edinburgh

This stark and sleek version of Ibsen’s classic play, adapted by Patrick Marber and directed by Ivo van Hove, demonstrates Hedda Gabler has resonance far beyond its time.

An ice-cold but electrifying Hedda (Lizzy Watts) returns from her honeymoon with new (but already unwanted and undesired) husband Tesman (played by Abhin Galeya as more youthful and vibrant than those that have come before him, but still more interested in his academic buddies, and still treating his wife like a trophy in a display cabinet), to the blank walls of her marital prison. Apparently lacking the means or self-motivation to free herself, Hedda sets out on a path of universal destruction.

The production plays out at a uniform pace which makes the unfolding horror all the more insidious. Hedda is a master manipulator, taking perverse pleasure in her malevolence. Whilst hurting and harming all those around her, every act of cruelty is ultimately harming only one person, Hedda herself. Her self-annihilation is uncomfortable to watch and every action, foreshadows the inevitable ending.

Jan Versweyveld’s whitewashed representation of Hedda and Tesman’s new marital home is cell-like, and despite it’s vast size, feels claustrophobically confining. The sparseness reflecting Hedda’s own view of the physical and psychological walls between which she’s trapped. Indeed, van Hove and Marber’s adaptation shines a modern light on Hedda’s actions, actions that we would now associate as classic symptoms of depression. Versweyveld’s lighting is a triumph, almost a character in itself, subtly shifting the mood in the auditorium.

However, for all that does work, there are details that jar: video intercoms, but no mobile phones, Løvborg’s precious manuscript in handwritten form only, characters discussing riding coats and whether they should call each other by Christian names while swanning around in modern dress. While much resonates, it has been robbed of much its power to shock in transporting it to the 21st Century. While it is depressing to think that over a century on, gender imbalance still exists and many women are still trapped in stifling marriages due to financial and familial pressure, but most have, or can find, an avenue of escape or support. The nagging question keeps coming to mind: “Why in today’s world, doesn’t she just pack up and leave?”

Watts is impressive in the titular role as is Annabel Bates (below) as old schoolmate Mrs. Elvsted. While an object of Hedda’s torture both in the past and present, she has much that Hedda envies, and Bates imbues her with a steely backbone hidden behind the soft exterior. Adam Best, in an uncomfortably resonant display of sexual harassment, (in light of the Weinstein allegations) is suitably abhorrent as the bullying Brack.

Despite some questionable directorial choices, Hedda Gabler, while no longer shocking, remains unnerving, and this National Theatre production deserves to be seen by a wide audience.

Production photography Brinkhoff/Mögenberg

REVIEW: The Importance of Being Earnest – Theatre Royal, Glasgow

It is hard to fathom why there is any need to tamper with things that, in their original form, are pretty much perfect in every way. Oscar Wilde’s witty masterpiece is so well-loved that, as well as endless stage revivals it has had three big-screen adaptations in 1952, 1992 and 2002. The sole reason for Lucy Bailey’s re-imagining seems to be the accommodation of a rather mature cast in these somewhat youthful roles.

Framed as a group of am-drams, The Bunbury Company of Players, rehearsing for their umpteenth revival of The Importance of Being Earnest, the action takes place in the impressive home of their maturest member Lavinia, who, of course, will play Lady Bracknell. Novelist Simon Brett is charged with providing the additional material, not exactly an enviable task, and what results, for much of the first act is a poor man’s Noises Off. Thoroughly half-hearted, it fails to provide any interesting back story for the characters or enough comedy to set up the main event.

Thankfully the action settles in the second act, and the framing fades into the play proper. The actors are a thoroughly charming bunch and no strangers to the work (Nigel Havers and Martin Jarvis both starring in Peter Hall’s 1982, National Theatre production), and there’s little doubt about the actors’ talent, but casting such a vastly experienced group of actors as a troupe of amateurs just doesn’t convince. What does impress though is Sian Phillips’ turn as a spectacularly well-judged Lady Bracknell.

There may be some disappointed audience members who bought tickets believing they were about to see a ‘straight’ production of Wilde’s Classic and one can’t help thinking this would have been glorious had it been staged thus, but there’s a brace of fine performances and a visually pleasing set to keep the audience engaged. Ultimately, though, it’s a case of what might have been.

Image: Tristram Kenton

This review was originally written for and published at: http://www.thereviewshub.com/the-importance-of-being-earnest-theatre-royal-glasgow/