HEDDA (after Ibsen) – Soho Theatre on Demand

Reviewer: Maryam Philpott

Creator and Director: Jen Hayes

For a modern reworking of Hedda Gabler, your mind might immediately leap to Ivo van Hove’s most recent effort at the National Theatre, but Jen Hayes’ 60-minute reworking of Ibsen’s text is quite an intense affair, mixing recreated scenes from the original play with personal insights delivered by the title character directly to camera. Set in a Cabaret-like no man’s land, Hayes’ version, available via Soho on Demand, may be short on psychological drama but its vicious central character has plenty of gossipy allure.

Having married a man she didn’t love just because he bought a house she liked, Hedda Gabler, now Hedda Tesman, is bored and trapped in a place where she spends all day arranging flowers or straightening cushions. Tired of Tesman’s family, Hedda decides to cause some mischief for a rival writer she once knew and an old childhood school friend with devastating results.

Hayes’ production is at its best when it fills in the gaps between Ibsen’s original scenes, giving Hedda a chance to reflect on events the audience know well, retelling them after they happen. The bitter tone adds to the enjoyment as she wallows in her own misery, cruelly railing against her tedious husband and the limitations of her new life while revelling in her superiority over the characters she presents to us.

Less successful is the dialogue lifted from Ibsen, which limits itself to interactions between Hedda and Eilert Lövborg, the only other character to physically appear in Hayes’ drama. These conversations, though crucial to the course of the play, feel overly stagey compared to the more intimate, often comic nature of Hedda’s internal monologue that dominates the rest of the piece. And while it adds a different tone to the hour, the shift from one to two perspectives is too jarring.

As director, Hayes creates variety across this specially filmed performance, giving it a gothic flavour by surrounding Hedda in darker tones that ensure she remains the centre of attention. Dressed in elaborate draped costumes and a sharp bobbed wig, there is a feeling of cabaret enhanced by several musical interludes that eventually detract from the stifling domesticity that so meaningfully shapes Hedda’s story.

David Hoyle is well cast as this more waspish Hedda, demanding the viewer’s attention and only interested in her own woes. Hoyle brings a feeling of deep disdain for everyone around Hedda but his Lövborg never quite justifies his existence as a physical presence. It is an enjoyable performance, looking under the surface of the character yet the conclusion isn’t pitched quite right, the final song too flippant to really capture the gathering storm that engulfs Ibsen’s heroine and leaves her with no room for manoeuvre.

Hayes’ production is innovative in its approach to reimagining the story and in putting Hedda’s self-absorbed perspective even more firmly at the heart of the show. It just lacks the psychological build-up that defines Ibsen’s dramatic conclusion, but HEDDA (after Ibsen) lends itself well to this short digital format.

Available here until 13 March 2022

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The Reviews Hub London is under the acting editorship of Richard Maguire. The Reviews Hub was set up in 2007. Our mission is to provide the most in-depth, nationwide arts coverage online.

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