The NT Live screening of Hedda Gabler brings us a bleak, sparse and shattering version of Ibsen’s classic play, written in 1891.
Under Ivo Van Hove’s assured direction, the play is updated to now, with a crisp, supple translation by Patrick Marber that makes it seem new and vivid .
The set is an almost bare, anonymous apartment in the inner city, in the middle of renovation. There are vertical blinds, a fridge and a security camera at the door. Jan Verswyveld‘s lighting is splendid.
The soundscape features a mix of popular songs including Joni Mitchell’s classic ballad Blue all of which go to depicting a person in crisis.
Ruth Wilson is luminous and riveting in the eponymous title role . We first see her slumped over the piano, in negligee and dressing robe, seemingly oblivious of what is happening around her– but is she really?!
Hedda is full of self loathing, trapped and bored in her already loveless marriage and seeks freedom. At times she is feline, at other times she is ferocious. We discover that she is a skillful manipulator yet simultaneously a victim of social convention.
When she finds out Tessman might not receive his anxiously longed for promotion , Hedda shreds several large bouquets that are in buckets on the floor and uses a staple gun to fix the stems to the wall, in an edgy, angry outbreak. At another point, she flicks and fiddles with the vertical drapes, adjusting the light for something to do as her dreams and hopes have not been realised.
The production features fine details – when Thea and Lovborg refer to their book as ‘their child’ Hedda touches her stomach – announcing she is pregnant?
Her academic husband Tessman was marvellously played by Kyle Soller. Tessman is a mix of enthusiastic ambition and awkwardness. When with him, Hedda is bored and sits beside him like an animated robot, drearily pretending to be the good wife.
Hedda destroys the life and work of her former lover Lovborg, fiercely and intensely played by Chukwudi Iwuji, who is a young ambitious lecturer, seeking to make a path in the academic world.
Rafe Spall as Judge Brack comes across as a charming but is a sinister blackmailer who enjoys using power and has no moral scruples.
When Brack attempts to seduce Hedda she dodges him. However, he still has a hold over her as demonstrated by him pinning her against the wall and spraying her with tomato juice, prefiguring her and Lovborg’s deaths.
Delicate Sinead Matthews portrays Thea as a downtrodden mouse almost unable to believe in her own bravery but she is prepared to leave her husband, sacrifice all for her love for Lovborg, and start afresh.
Aunt Juliana, as portrayed by Kate Duchene, is a really decent, helpful person. It is a dark and shattering production, a show full of pain and doubt . As Brack says at the final tableaux “ People don’t do this ‘ – or do they ?
The NT Live production of Ibsen’s HEDDA GABBLER screens at selected cinemas from 1 April.
Running time allow 2 hours 45 including interval .There is a short documentary on ‘the making of ‘ and interviews during the interval