May 01, 2013

Adelaide Theatre – Hedda Gabler

Hedda Gabler
by Henrik Ibsen
Adaptation by Joanna Murray-Smith
State Theatre Company.
Dunstan Playhouse
Adelaide Festival Centre.
April 30. Tickets $ 25 – $ 65
Bookings: BASS 131 246
Until May 18.

“Men and women,“ Henrik Ibsen once observed, “don’t belong to the same century.” He was writing, in 1889, preliminary jottings for one of his best-known plays, Hedda Gabler – but, even 124 years later, the remark carries a rebuke. Ibsen had made the same point earlier, in his epoch-changing play about gender inequality, A Doll’s House, but in Hedda Gabler he created an even more problematic circumstance.

Hedda is a strong, smart, restless young woman in her mid-twenties, who, fearing she is already an “old maid”, has whimsically married Jorgen Tesman, a well-meaning but insipid academic. Almost immediately she regrets her decision. As Ibsen himself notes, “the daemon in Hedda is she wants to influence another human being, but once that has happened, she despises him.”
As she also despises, and tangles with, others in her circle – the cynical Judge Brack, circling for casual dalliance, and Eilert Lovborg, a troubled soul whose death wish she herself shares with increasing intensity.

Director Geordie Brookman’s excellent production for State Theatre benefits greatly from Joanna Murray-Smith’s lucidly assured, accessibly modernised adaptation. Geoff Cobham’s design is indeterminately Scandinavian – a striking, asymmetrical 1960’s style house frame, featuring a bright living room, sparsely furnished with a couch and writing table. Through the high curtained windows at the back we glimpse a murky vista of charred tree trunks. Apart from a mobile phone there is nothing to contemporize events; Ailsa Paterson’s serviceable, sometimes eccentric , costumes give no clue. Instead, our focus is on Hedda her boredom and her pent-up isolation – amplified by interludes at the end of each of the four acts featuring DJ Tr!p’s frenetic electronica and Cobham’s inventively expressionist lighting.

Brookman has gathered an impressive ensemble cast. Cameron Goodall’ s Tesman – dithery, insecure, and besotted with his trophy wife – is disturbingly abject, as is Kate Cheel’s desperate portrait of Thea Elvested, a woman devoted to redeeming the doomed Lovborg. Carmel Johnson is memorable as Aunt Julle, doting on her nephew and wary of his wild wife. Also excellent are Terence Crawford, urbanely sinister as the predatory Brack and Nathan O’Keefe, unforgetable as the tormented writer Lovborg.

In the demanding role as neurotic, vibrant, alienated Hedda, Alison Bell is outstanding. She makes the time-shift credible; Hedda’s predicament (“it’s really a man’s life she wants to lead,” wrote Ibsen) is not just a 19th century problem. Bell’s notable achievement, and of this exceptional production overall, is to present Hedda’s malign, reckless despair while still retaining our sense of the injustice of her tragedy.

“Bell outstanding as Ibsen’s driven woman in search of a ‘man’s life’, The Australian, May2, 2013. p.13.

1 Comment »

  1. best review I’ve read…cheers

    Comment by trish — May 13, 2013 @ 11:43 am

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