Based on Hedda Gabler by Henrik Ibsen; directed, translated and adapted by Terje Tveit
Ibsen Stage Company
Riverside Studios

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Regarding his 1890's piece Hedda Gabler, Ibsen is often quoted as saying, "What I principally wanted to do was to depict human beings, human emotions, and human destinies". How sad then Ibsen himself would be to discover that the company who shares his name fail to deliver what he set out to do in their new interpretation Hedda.

Terje Tveit's direction is most definitely not naturalistic. This is a Brecht-does-Ibsen production: very few props, simple setting, actors visible at all times. Brecht's use of montage is employed, with characters stopping, staring and speaking in well composed stage pictures for most of the evening. Rarely do they lock eyes with each other, but when eye contact is achieved the effect is most dramatic.

The problem with this approach throughout the whole play is that it is very difficult for any empathy to build. The characters remain one dimensional empty shells, as if the audience were privy to an audio-slideshow, all be it a very well spoken audio-slide show. The musical underscorin,g sounding like a collaboration between Enya, tubular bells and whale mating calls, only detracts from the little action onstage and is often too loud.

There is some movement, mainly pacing around the perimeter of the bare, circular acting area to enter or leave the house. There are no physical doors here, usually pivotal in Ibsen's work - who could forget the famous door slam in A Doll's House? The constant circling of the acting area seems to work though, creating dramatic irony as the invisible walls allow the audience to observe the 'inside' action, whilst witnessing the character in question 'outside' completely unaware of what they are about to become embroiled in.

Sarah Head is a mysterious Hedda Gabbler. She is the headmistress to Doron Davidson's geeky schoolboy Jørgen Tesman and sultry black widow to Fanos Xenofós' Eilert Løvborg. When she hands Løvborg one of her pistols to do something beautiful with, you know she wants him dead and finds this secretly pleasurable.

Manipulative and dangerous, Hedda is constantly centre stage, spinning a web of deceit and deception around her, whilst this production emphasises the many secrets in the narrative of Ibsen's play. Hedda is a part of them all, manipulating her so-called friends like an ice queen, immune to any real emotion.

The one and only piece of set is a large chair, draped in white material. Hedda's regal throne turns into her interrogation chair at the end of the play. The tables are now turned as Matthew Williamson's Brack holds the power over Hedda all because of his knowledge of the truth. For its final incarnation the once-throne becomes Hedda's execution chair: after she commits suicide, the manipulative reign of Hedda is finally over.

Unfortunately the setting, costumes and lighting are, like the production, bland. The blacks, greys and whites of the costuming only contribute to the barren wasteland set, complete with crumpled up manuscript pages symbolising the dead autumn leaves. The slow pace and lack of movement, apart from the constant encircling, only adds to the long, drawn out feel of the production and one starts to sympathise with Hedda's boredom.

Running at two hours without a break between acts, this production is far too long and unengaging to watch in one sitting. An interval would have been much appreciated.

Playing until 14th February 2010

Reviewer: Simon Sladen