HEATHER GARDNER: A version of Ibsen’s HEDDA GABLER by Robin French
Birmingham Rep (at The Old Rep) till 28 March 2013
Runs: 2h 5m, one interval
Review: Alexander Ray Edser, 19 03 13
A classic in fine form after quite a wash and brush up.
To re-vision HEDDA GABLER and set it in Birmingham at a time when, under a McMillan government, the UK is about to hurtle into the swinging 60s seems, on the face of it, to be an interesting choice. In reality it’s absorbing, entertaining and enlightening. Robin French’s version also has a deft touch of comedy – in one or two places the jokes are a bit heavy handed, but this is a small price to pay.
Hedda (Heather) remains a general’s daughter and the opposing professorial forces are well placed in these times that are a-changing. The shifting times are a strong force; Hedda/Heather comes from the old order and cannot find her way in the new one. Reason enough for her to feel so powerless. Elisabeth Hopper gauges her performance perfectly – she looks beautiful but is ice-cold. Time after time you find yourself thinking: ‘What a bitch you are,’ then quickly following up with: ‘But I understand where you’re coming from.’ It’s confusing and unsettling – and just what Ibsen ordered.
This is a strong company and director Robin French creates a strong sense of ensemble. In Jamie Vartan’s atmospheric set, the production, as a whole, has the genteel air of the well-made-play about it; this produces a thrilling tension with the passions and cruelty which lie just below the surface.
This production offers a great deal to both those who know the original and those who are approaching Ibsen for the first time. Quite an achievement.
George Desmond: James Bradshaw
Peregrine Brand: Christopher Ettridge
Alex Lambart: Sean Hart
Heather Desmond: Elisabeth Hopper
June Desmond: Rosalind March
Ben Woodhead: Roderick Smith
Dorothy Edwards: Maisie Turpie
Writer: Robin French
Director: Mike Bradwell
Designer: Jamie Vartan
Lighting Designer: Rick Fisher
Sound Designer: Dan Hoole