by Henrik Ibsen new version by Andrew Upton
Royal and Derngate (Royal auditorium) Guildhall Street NN1 1DP To 28 July 2012.
Mon-Sat 7.45pm Mat Thu & Sat 2.30pm.
Audio-described 24 July.
BSL Signed 25 July.
Post-show Discussion 24 July.
Runs 2hr 30min One interval.
Tickets: 01604 624811.
Review: Timothy Ramsden 16 July.
Vine leaves all round.
Audience members might not recognise Janice McKenzie’s name. Yet this fine actor gives a memorable performance in the role of maid to newly-weds Jorgen and Hedda Tesman.
It’s obvious Berte doesn’t want to be there, as she meekly suggests reasons to return to her kindly employer Julie, the young master’s aunt. But Julie wants to help Jorgen and his trophy wife by giving them Berte. Stuck with them, McKenzie’s a mass of nerves, eyes darting worriedly, bobbing unnecessary curtseys to ensure politeness, and near panicking when torn between stoking the stove and waking Hedda with the noise.
It’s a sign of this production’s standard. Jorgen and Julie Tesman are often played as fussily naïve. Not here, where Sue Wallace provides an innocent bustle, naïve mainly in referring to the grey house where Jorgen is overstretching himself financially to satisfy Hedda, as a place of light and life.
She looks for new life through the marriage. It’s not likely to happen; if Andrew Upton’s spare version plays-down Hedda’s disgust at physical contact, it’s evident in Emma Hamilton’s performance. Very good at Pre-Raphaelite stances by a wall or the huge window where she often closes the curtains, Hedda cringes or clutches herself at the thought of human touch. No wonder she exults in burning a manuscript its author calls his “baby”. And it makes her full-body approach to her despised husband a clear measure of desperation, which soon disgusts her.
Nor is Jack Hawkins’ Jorgen the usual obvious pedant, while Lex Shrapnel’s convincingly imaginative Lovborg, on the edge of auto-destruction, Matti Houghton’s sensible Thea and Jay Villiers’ Judge Brack, smoothly mixing respectability and libidinous tendencies, are all strong.
This is a triumphant climax to director Laurie Sansom’s ‘Festival of Chaos’. He diminishes Ibsen’s fussier elements, clarifying the plot as much as possible. Characters occasionally talk over each other in this unhappy household’s dislocation, contrasting an end where Thea and Jorgen sit together, backs to everyone, ignoring Hedda’s pointless comments, while Brack’s sexual blackmail awaits her. So her final sound, noticeably producing shock but not grief, becomes her only way of being heard.
Hedda Gabler: Emma Hamilton.
Jorgen Tesman: Jack Hawkins.
Thea Elvsted: Matti Houghton.
Berte: Janice McKenzie.
Eilert Lovborg: Lex Shrapnel.
Judge Brack: Jay Villiers.
Julie Tesman: Sue Wallace.
Director: Laurie Sansom.
Designer: Ruth Sutcliffe.
Lighting: Philip Gladwell.
Sound: Ben Harrison.
Assistant director: Sean McGrath.