Henrik Ibsen, trans Richard Eyre
Lyceum Theatre Company
Lyceum Theatre, Edinburgh
Hedda Gabler is a great play, but perhaps even greater is the force that is the title role when played well. In the Lyceum's production it is a joy to watch Nicola Daley take on this great but flawed character in Ibsen's tragedy.
Nicola Daley's Hedda is superb. It is a wonderfully confident performance perfectly balancing the character's darker qualities whilst still allowing the audience to be sympathetic to the trap in which she finds herself.
The production benefits though from good casting throughout and a great overall vision by designer Jean Chan. There are some breaks from the usual naturalism that work very well, but other changes that are less convincing.
The action of the play all takes place in the house of Hedda and her husband George Tesman (Lewis Hart) on their return from their rather unromantic honeymoon, which was more of a research trip for academic Tesman.
As the set inches in around her, we see the claustrophobia of Hedda's world. There is Tesman's Aunt Julia (Sally Edwards) and her constant unsubtle insinuations of motherhood, along with Hedda's distaste for her overfamiliarity and naffness.
Then there are the creepy advances of family friend Judge Brack (Benny Young) a charming Scots accent but a very dark performance. From his help with buying the house to his involvement with the police later on, he is constantly trying to manoevre himself into a position of power over her.
Ibsen's play is still popular not just because it speaks to women who are still fighting for equality, but it speaks to anyone who feels trapped by marriage or by other social creations. There is still a feeling that not having a family is a failure.
The set and costumes are of the play's time, but the simplicity of the design, particularly in its limited pallette, reminds us of the play's universality. The scene and costume change which is done as a dance is a great addition to the play. Even in this medium, you could still see Hedda is not free.
There are some other digressions from the naturalistic form, mostly with success, although the appearance of Eilbert's ghost seems a little unnecessary and almost upstages a very important scene for Hedda.
That is not to criticise Jack Tarlton who is great as the wayward academic Eilbert Loevborg. He is nearly Hedda's match and certainly more entertaining than the other male characters but completely thwarted by his addiction to drink.
Loevborg's other love interest Thea Elvsted (Jade Williams) is the perfect opposite to Daley's dark confident Hedda, a Thea brimming with optimism and naïvety.
No matter how many times you have seen it before, you will still be moved by this production, which reminds you just how great Ibsen's tragedy is. Daley and the rest of the cast will blow you away.
Reviewer: Seth Ewin