Monday, September 01, 2008

Hedda at the Gate

And, so, to Notting Hill on a sticky, pre-storm Saturday, to the teeny (but fortunately air-cooled) Gate Theatre for Lucy Kirkwood’s modern update of Ibsen’s Hedda Gabler. I was not overfond of Tinderbox, her first full length play which was at the Bush earlier this year, but this I really enjoyed – with one fairly major reservation. Kirkwood has relocated the play to contemporary Notting Hill, to the streets a stone’s (or a play text’s throw) from the venue itself; her Hedda, still grieving for her father and impulsively married to a man she does not care for, is “marooned in nappy valley with nothing to do.” She has no job – and no real desire to get one – is saddled with a hefty mortgage on a home she never really wanted and, possibly, has a baby on the way. Though her husband adores her (even if he does not really understand her), for Hedda it is hell. So she entertains herself by toying with those around her, mocking and manipulating.

Though it runs to nearly two hours without a break, Carrie Cracknell’s production is riveting, always gripping, and superbly acted by everyone; each performance feels whole, solid. Cara Horgan is a dangerous Hedda, stalking around the two-tier set with her father’s antique pistols (though I did wonder why, when Eli’s manuscript was now carried around on a memory stick, Hedda’s guns had not been updated in any way). Tom Mison is strong of spirit as her husband George, even though he is clearly baffled and awed by his new wife. There is clearly more to him than she gives him credit for. Everyone else – Adrian Bower (the not John Simm one from Elling, Cath Whitefield, Christopher Obi, Alice Patten – adds to the picture

The set design and the use of music in Cracknell’s production is, as ever with the Gate, spot on. As a venue it seems to have a particularly good way with such things. Unkle’s Rabbit In Your Headlights (the one with Thom Yorke on vocals) was just one example of a perfectly judged choice of song.

The crucial problem for me though (and not just me, as I see from the reviews) is that in stripping Hedda of social context, any sympathy for her is lost. She just comes across as monstrously self absorbed and cruel, repellently so. Kirkwood has done her best to get around this, Hedda is still in pain following her father’s death and she clearly views herself as a bad, broken person, unfixable. Horgan too manages to inject some small note of vulnerability into the character. But it’s not enough, or it wasn’t for me. This Hedda is simply too much, too unpleasant, her behaviour malicious and inexcusable.

Unrelated, but the floor seemed to be magnetised at the performance I saw, as both Hedda’s bracelet and that vital memory stick jumped out of her grasp and fell to the ground and had to be scrabbled for.

Even more unrelated, I am off to Belgrade tomorrow, so this blog may go quiet for a week or so.

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