Writer: Henrik Ibsen
Revised by: Richard Eyre
Director: Amanda Gaughan
Designer: Jean Chan
Having first made its debut in London in 2005, Richard Eyre’s re-imagining of Ibsen’s iconic play Hedda Gabler is now treading the floorboards of Edinburgh’s Lyceum Theatre. With Amanda Gaughan directing in her first production for the Lyceum, this latest outing for Hedda is daring and ambitious in its crusade to bring the comedy to the tragedy.
In a drama perhaps best known for its iconic depiction of the oppressed Victorian woman by the male patriarchy, this is a surprisingly humorous production that invariably seeks to raise smiles and arouse laughter from the theatre audience. Both Judge Brack’s innuendos (Benny Young) and the naïve Tesman’s frequent exclamative responses of ‘Amazing!’ (Lewis Hart) raise many a laugh, and there is great comedy in Aunt Ju-Ju’s mothering of her nephew (Sally Edwards) and in the gushing confession of Thea Elvsted (Jade Williams). Young and Hart have a captivating stage presence and demonstrate great light and shade in their respective performances. Likewise, Vari Sylvester delivers a solid performance as Berthe, while Jack Tarlton plays Eilbert with great passion and poise, though his Scottish accent mysteriously seems to sway towards RP English.
More puzzling is Nicola Daley’s performance as Hedda. Her interpretation of the infamous tragic heroine is rather like marmite – you’ll either love it or hate it.
On the one hand, her abrupt and monotone delivery jars with her manic smile which she wears throughout the entirety of the production. Her pitch, pace, tone remain virtually unaltered and this, on occasion, produces a comic affect occasionally verging on the farcical, and wanders dangerously towards a constant patronising tone, which seems barely believable. An overemphasis on the comedic means that by the time we reach the dramatic events of the final act, this persona seems worn out and overplayed – we’ve already seen it all before. Hedda’s dark and twisted nature and her disenchantment have not altered, thus the finale is lacking in climx or major revelation.
Other critics may argue, however, that this delivery is deliberate and reflects Hedda’s barely disguised frustrations with her life and the ignorance of her friends and family to see her distress. If it’s a deliberate affect then it may be excused and perhaps even applauded; if not then it hardly seems pardonable.
The real star of the show, however, is the production and costume design. Jean Chan has created an incredibly dynamic set that functions on several levels. Not only does the set provide the illusion of a lofty and large space on a relatively small theatre stage, but also suggests the idea of a cage in which Hedda is entrapped and can never leave. Inspired moments such as the falling shreds of paper in the second half reinforce the strong relationship between the set design and the actors within it. The Contemporary/ Victorian mix of the costumes is also to be applauded, playing with our preconceptions of this late Victorian play, while allowing for some interesting scene changes, such as in the first half, where Hedda dances across the stage and is re-dressed into a new costume by her maids.
Lighting is also highly considered, and the production team beautifully capture the contrast in the light of the sun throughout the day and into the night.
The music, including the live use of the piano, is also highly effective, providing a mysterious, eerie quality that compliments the production and seamlessly enhances crucial scenes, including the final Act.
In short, this production of Hedda Gabler is a non-traditional re-imagining of a classic piece of realist drama, well thought out, and well worth a trip to the theatre.
Runs until 11April 2015