by Henrik Ibsen adapted by Brian Friel.
Old Vic 103 The Cut SE1 8NB To 10 November 2012.
Mon-Sat 7.30pm Mat Wed & Sat 2.30pm.
Audio-described 6 November (+Touch Tour 6pm).
Captioned 23 Oct.
Runs: 2hr 50min One interval.
TICKETS: 0844 871 7628 (£2.50 transaction fee; does not apply to supporters of The Old Vic).
Review: Carole Woddis 12 September.
A production to stand by the recent revelatory Northampton revival?
Almost every classical actress of note has donned the constraining corset that is Henrik Ibsen’s wonderful, pincer-contrived Hedda Gabler. Consigned to bourgeois domesticity, she is the reluctant rebel, the complementary sister to Nora in Ibsen’s A Doll’s House, yearning for she’s not-quite-sure what, straining against the bars of discretion and discreet charm.
Perhaps that is why director Anna Mackmin and designer Lez Brotherston’s period production places Sheridan Smith’s Hedda in an imposing all glass conservatory, as if nodding towards her predecessor.
Mackmin has served something of a reclamation on Hedda. Smith’s Mrs Tesman is not quite the restless, pathological monster of past times but rather a young, light-voiced, slightly haughty, sometimes malicious but also vulnerable young protagonist whose only outlet from boredom is to be found in exerting power over another human being, notably the weak and equally vulnerable Eilert Loevborg (Daniel Lapaine).
Smith rises to the occasion on the whole with credit adopting a tight, perenially polite little smile in the face of clearly unbearable companions such as her husband, Tesman’s, fussy aunt, `Ju-Ju’, her gawky, loyal maid, Bertha and most of all, her devoted but pedantic husband, George. So far so familiar.
Mackmin, however, brings something else to bear in a production whose melodramatic impulses only become glaringly apparent in the final quarter of an hour and never comes close to German director, Thomas Ostermeier’s thrillingly radical production four years ago. The most intriguing character on stage, thanks to this Brian Friel version, is Fenella Woolgar’s Thea Elvsted, the homeless amanuensis, redeemer of lost souls and literary custodian.
Mackmin gives her the final moment – scurrying away, Loevborg’s notes clasped to her bosom, his genius safe with her despite Hedda’s attempt to destroy it.
Unlike Hedda’s impotence, Mackim and Friel show Thea is the one with courage to remake her life, free from the social constraints imposed upon her.
Mackmin’s subtler-than-usual production also underlines more humour with Adrian Scarborough’s jolly Tesman and Darrell D’Silva’s Judge Brack of the hale-fellow-well met variety rather than the usual psychological blackmailer.
In short, we get Hedda’s frustration if not her desperate, destructive claustrophobia.
Judge Brack: Darrell D’Silva.
Bertha: Buffy Davis.
Eilert Loevborg: Daniel Lapaine.
Juliana Tesman: Anne Reid.
George Tesman: Adrian Scarborough.
Hedda Gabler: Sheridan Smith.
Thea Elvsted: Fenella Woolgar.
Director: Anna Mackmin.
Designer: Lez Brotherston.
Lighting: Mark Henderson.
Music: Paul Englishby.
Sound: Simon Baker.
Casting: Sarah Bird.
First performance of this production, 5 September 2012.