Thursday, 30 November 2017

Henrik Ibsen: Hedda Gabler

Last month I went to see The National Theatre’s production of Ibsen’s Hedda Gabler at The Lowry Theatre, Salford. Originally written by Henrik Ibsen the new version by writer Patrick Marber takes a innovative & modern approach to a classic text, with direction by Ivo van Hove.

First of all; when I bought my tickets for the play online, the Lowry booking system was showing nearly every seat full, and as a result I booked seats in the circle tier, stage right. Unfortunately about 75% of the action in the first act was performed at the right hand side of the stage, so I missed HUGE sections of the play. (i) This was completely unnecessary- using the right hand side of the stage wasn't for any other reason than to appear funky and quirky and didn't add anything to the narrative of the play; (ii) Why oh WHYYY did the Lowry even SELL tickets when the view was so obscured? (iii) In any event, about HALF of the theatre was EMPTY so I was unnecessarily pegged to a restricted view which was EXTREMELY FRUSTRATING. In the 2nd half, we were able to move seats on the advice of a benevolent usher, but by then the damage had been done. So that was a bollock dropped.

Secondly- the good bits. And there were many. The production (apart from the unnecessary concentration on stage right in the first half) was excellent- futuristic, sparse, yet honouring/ referencing certain timeless components of Ibsen's metre (the mildly tweedy costume, and deferential/ condescending tension in the dialogue notably). The phantasmagoria of set design and lighting were inspired. The intermittent use of Joni Mitchell's Blue added emotional depth and an enchanting dimension. In particular, I found Brack (Adam Best) compelling and the overall balance of the play produced a taut, intense experience.

BUT (and it is a BIG BUT). I found actress Lizzy Watts utterly unconvincing as Hedda. Every time she opened her mouth I could feel the scope and feel of the play diminished by her parochial style, her wretched unemotional voice and failure to present Hedda as the dark spectre Ibsen created her as. In my view, Hedda has to grab you by the balls- either in an uncontrollable wave of raw sexuality, or as a beguiling but dangerous emotional tsunami (and ideally both). I wish I could say Watts suffered at the hands of Patrick Marber's writing, or was occluded or made unemotional by van Hove's direction, but quite honestly I think she acted poorly, and failed to engage in any visceral way with the inner workings of Hedda. The dressing gown/ slip as a 'dream- like' device took away some of her power overall but in the right hands I felt even that handicap (of not being able to use costume to surgical effect) would enhance Hedda's sexuality. This was (literally) "capped" off by an incredibly glib final suicide scene, where I was left thinking instead of designing a grand dramatic end, Watts had accidentally set off her gun and shot herself in the foot. Enough said.

"Do you think that is worth the trouble? 
Oh, if you could only understand how poor I am."
~Hedda Gabler~

Despite my acerbic review of Lizzy Watts here, I had an awesome night at the Lowry and delighted in watching a classic play in a timeless way. 

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