Hedda Gabler review: ‘captivating’

By Karn Chatikavanij

Aesthetic, lucid, yet psychologically unplaceable, Dominic Birch’s version of Ibsen’s 1890 family drama delivers an experience akin to viewing a painting.

In Green Door Theatre’s production of Hedda Gabler, the drawing room is rich, private and intense, making a dramatically-heightening backdrop to the performances of the statuesque characters. The intimacy of the set was an invitation for the audience to notice subtle details of the actors’ movements and speech – a feature effectively taken advantage of by Cassandra Bailly in the title role. Bailly’s Hedda could seen frequently expressing something a little more than contempt for her husband through small but alarmingly undisguised gestures providing a darkly comic understanding of a sense of Hedda’s entrapment. Bailly’s excellent uses of minor gestures, facial contractions, and side-glances must be remarked on as they served well as minute outbursts of passion through her character’s surface monotony.

The stark contrast between Bailly’s manipulative and controlled Hedda and Rahul Ravi’s hapless and sometimes too distractingly fidgety George Tesman in this production put forward a kind of explanation for the conflict between Ibsen’s couple; an interesting sense of sympathy developed for both the husband and wife.

The performances last night took some time to take their shape, with the opening scene slightly falling short in terms of energy, especially regarding entrances and exits which were occasionally untimely and lacked impact. However, the actors gained momentum and some fantastic feats of performance were distributed across the cast. Special commendation must go to Astrid Helene Olsen for so adroitly portraying the curious yet perfectly natural blend of nervous simplicity and kind passion in Thea Elvsted. Thea’s pleading and horror in Act Three was executed with one of the most energetic performances of the night. Also impressive was Fraser Logue’s unfalteringly natural performance as the character of Eilert Løvborg. Logue’s handling of Eilert’s trembling passion against Hedda’s emotional screen portrayed by Bailly resulted in some of the best scenes in the performance.

The innovation of this production of Ibsen’s well-known play comes from the way it strikes a curious, dark chord of comedy. Hedda’s asides, well-executed by Bailly, showed a cold-hearted humour about her character – sardonic yet not completely unforgiveable, and the sinister private laugh in the latter part of the play was done superbly to show the unfollowable way the character’s psychology and humour works. The production gives us a new, startlingly ironic Hedda whose life as a ‘farce’ is more clearly highlighted.

While some scenes with Hedda’s refusal to admit emotion provided fascinating moments of rebelliousness and apparently arbitrary morals, her monotony did detract from some potentially richer dramatic revelations. The final exchange between Hedda and Judge Brack could have done with a higher sense of sparring and jeopardy, if only to heighten the theatricality of the encounter. The most significant weakness overall in the performance was the timing of delivery: the delivery of lines was occasionally rushed and some of Ibsen’s most brilliant lines were lost or not satisfyingly emphasised. A lack of pauses during dialogue had somewhat detracting effects in a play so concerned with internal disintegration which should hold silences – thus, reflection – just as important as speech.

Despite the various – but each, very minor – faults, this was overall an incredibly smooth production that benefitted well from the plush intimacy of St Chad’s Chapel and a highly talented cast who gave natural and committed performances that ensured a captivating production.

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