Off West End Review

Hedda Gabler – National Theatre

hedda gabler

Emma Thompson thought she had the monopoly of melancholically listening to Joni Mitchell at Christmas time, but she hadn’t banked on Ivo van Hove. Neither had I, but when those sorrowful notes of Mitchell’s Blue pervaded the air, it reminded me of a time when I would sit in the dark with the track on full volume, frustrated with life and the limitations of being a teenager. I was quite a sensitive child.

Perhaps here lies both the brilliance and drawbacks of Ivo van Hove’s Hedda Gabler; that in parts I found her quite relatable. This is unequivocally down to the exceptional performance from Ruth Wilson. There’s a beguiling quality to her portrayal as she prowls across the stage, often circling her prey. She’s utterly charismatic, in a familiar stroke to Luther’s Alice Morgan, where her malignance is compelling to watch.

There are petulant strops and pelting buckets of flowers across the stage out of pent up frustration and boredom, which resembles a brattish child smashing up their room. It’s a cry out and there is a heartfelt sadness in the tender moments of tearful reflection. Beneath the veneer, is an intense rawness that Wilson drip-feeds out.

hedda gabler

She feels lost in a privileged world, losing grasp of who she is and control over her life. She left the chaos behind and settled for an unfulfilled marriage to an academic. Kyle Soller gives a fine performance as the self-assured and likeable husband, but who she calls her accomplice in the act of boring herself to death. Hedda’s insecurities manifest themselves as manipulative and spiteful game-playing, attempting to regain some grasp of power. Patrick Marber’s new version inflames her hate, with a script that has the same bullet-hitting harshness as Closer.

Even Jan Versweyveld’s high celling set is an airy cage, highlighting her entrapment with all exits blocked off and only an expansive glass window for light and air. The lighting is visually stunning as twilight hues stream in, igniting the set with an amber glow. It’s all very atmospheric and adds to the intensities of Ivo van Hove’s electrifying production.

As Hedda weaves a path of destruction for all around, Brack is inching ever closer to weasel the power from her. The brilliant Rafe Spall is wincingly slimy as the Judge, whose charm and swagger turns into something far more calculating and sinister.

An army of those victim to Hedda’s ruin, join forces to silently barricade out the light.  Drum beats begin and as the darkness encroaches, we are left with the shattering desperation of a woman who feels deserted and completely helpless. It’s both a disturbing and thrilling finale.

Hedda Gabler runs until 21st March at the National Theatre.

Big thank you to Theatre Blogs for the opportunity to review this production.

(Photo courtesy of Jan Versweyveld)

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