Culture Theatre

National Theatre at Home Review: Henrik Ibsen’s Hedda Gabler

Rating: 5 out of 5.

There is something surprisingly intimate about watching theatre online, as your vantage point looms above the audience in celestial smugness, miles away from the back row seat with 15% visibility you would have otherwise occupied. Of course, half the joy of theatre lies in the physical experience. Indeed, it is in the sticky seats and overpriced ice cream that we are given our own immersive performance to act out. Yet our post pandemic reality empowers the global audience to exist outside of their own theatrical postcode, as platforms such as National Theatre at Home rise in popularity and carry us into a new age of theatre. Although I am in sunny Barcelona on my Erasmus exchange, culturally giddy in Gaudi’s gaudy metropolis, I have found myself longing for the bleak frankness of London’s stage. And what better way to satisfy my thirst for melancholia than Ivo Van Hove’s version of Hedda Gabler?

Often dubbed the female Hamlet, Ruth Wilson’s Hedda is everything a tragic heroine should be: passionate, isolated and devastatingly beautiful in her own self destruction. Ethereal in her silver silk slip, she dominates the stage with her femininity and rage, the two working together in perfect cadence to trap her in her own mental prison. The stage is barren but for a piano and a few miscellaneous pieces of furniture. They are not new, instead tarnished and grubby, as if the set designers have cut corners with the free side of Facebook Marketplace. The lighting is dull, warm and misleadingly homely, except for a glaring light that penetrates through a blind. The play opens with Hedda asleep at the piano, and already it is clear that she will be the sole composer of her own story and its trajectory. Joni Mitchell’s Blue is her most loyal companion, her voice the calm amid the turbulence of Hedda’s madness.

Loneliness is the main protagonist of this play, and her role is even greater as Hedda stands in front a sea of balding heads and loved up theatre goers, a poignancy that exists only in the virtual. Anne D’Huys’ costumes are also to be commended. Mrs Elvsted (Sinead Matthews) sports a micro trend crochet dress that mirrors the fickle, and quite frankly, uninspiring nature of her character. Judge Brack’s (Rafe Spall) tight fitting trousers look as uncomfortable as his character makes us, and Tesman (Kyle Soller), in his creased shirt and trousers, looks like an insecure schoolboy. Yet the most impactful element of the performance lies in the role of Berte (Eva Magner), the maid. She sits and watches from the corner of the stage silently throughout, rarely moving apart from to open the door to let other characters in, her hands harbingers of doom as she admits various characters. Her voyeurism becomes almost omniscient, as she watches from the shade in an otherwise well lit stage. Although having little dialogue, it is in this quiet steadfastness that she acts as an ever present contrast with the chaos of Hedda.

This is a play that foretells its own ending, yet the final scene is still excruciating. Hedda, once irresistible and confident, has become a writhing encaged animal, covered in red stains and ultimately powerless. It takes a very powerful hypnosis to achieve the same emotional response virtually as one can in the  physical space, yet Ivo Van Hove is our hypnotist: with Hedda Gabler as his pendulum he entrances even a global audience.

Image Ruth Wilson at Showtime’s ‘The Affair’ FYC Screening and Panel – DSC_0134‘ by Red Carpet Report is licensed under C.C. BY-SA 2.o