Hedda Gabler

Henrik Ibsen, translated by Michael Meyer
Bath Theatre Royal and touring
(2010)

Publicity photo

Hedda Gabler, one of theatre's most enigmatic and destructive heroines, is no easy nut to crack. Resigning herself, much as Ibsen did, to all the constraints of late nineteenth century respectability, nevertheless there lurks within her a complex and powerful sexuality. Even as she gives in to a safe, if loveless, marriage, she yearns for the bohemian lifestyle that she finds so alluring.

Neither does the character conform obediently to any type: though her demise has all the hallmarks of Victorian tragedy, Hedda does not feel like a particularly tragic figure. She chooses her path, refusing to hand over control of her own destiny right to the last. "Life is not tragic", said Ibsen. "It is ridiculous and cannot be borne".

And so there is an arresting strength to Hedda; she is a woman ahead of her time. As Ibsen noted while he was writing the play, "Men and women don't belong to the same century". In Hedda he captures the truth of that sentiment, at least within the context of the nineteenth century. She is trapped, unhappy and disquieted yes; and yet she commands our awe more than our sympathies.

It's a remarkable piece of writing; Ibsen's finest.

As if that's not intimidating enough for any actress, this is also a play that is never long off the British stage. Making your stamp on a part that has been performed ad infinitum since its first staging in 1891 can never be an easy prospect.

And yet Rosamund Pike lights the role from within, commanding the eye from her very first entrance and giving the play the intense bloom of a first staging. She is a brooding and arresting presence on stage, full of charisma and dark intent and smouldering with every nuance of text, movement and expression.

Adrian Noble's cast don't so much converse as rally off each other; their thinly disguised, if unspoken, rivalries evident in the nuances of delivery.

Tim McInnerny is a heady and irresistibly languid Judge Brack, sultry and self-prepossessed. Robert Glenister perfectly pitches the hopeless and unrestrained devotion of a newly-wed husband and his pedantic conventional academia plays in perfect contrast to the alluringly enlightened imagination of Colin Tierney's bohemian Loevborg.

If there is anything lacking in this production it is perhaps a darker, more visceral Loevborg. Tierney does well in his portrayal of Loveborg's unravelling but stops short of really convincing us of the unruly, untethered passions that move this tortured, alcoholic and idealistic writer.

At Bath Theatre Royal until March 6th and tours to Brighton, Richmond, Nottingham and Oxford before transferring to the West End.

This production was reviewed by Vera Liber at Richmond.

Reviewer: Allison Vale