Saturday, March 20, 2010
Hedda Gabler at Richmond Theatre
Ibsen’s Hedda Gabler is a woman adept at making her own prisons.
Though she is pressured by both family and society to behave a certain manner, to resign herself to life as a wife and mother, the greatest pressure on her seems to come from within.
Hedda has taken it upon herself to marry a distinctly average, academically inclined man, George Tesman, and now that their honeymoon is over she finds herself living in the house she had only pretended to adore, hemmed in, trapped.
When she finds the maid has left the windows open in the drawing room, she orders the curtain drawn, to shield her from the sun, to keep her in shadow. She seems to take a perverse kind of pleasure in her misery, to cultivate it.
Rosamund Pike’s Hedda is, by turns, both malevolent and radiant. There is such determination in her eyes when she lifts a match to the simpering Mrs Elvsted’s hair and threatens to burn it, that one gets the impression it is only a nagging lethargy that stops her from carrying out the act. Pike revels in the character’s contradictions; Hedda is forceful and seductive, yet also passive. There are actions she could take to save herself but she does not take them. Needy and grating though she may be, Mrs Elvsted has greater courage, going after the things she cares about.
Hedda is also the daughter of a general and still has something of the air of a spoilt child about her, though one grown into a volatile, demanding adult. She courts danger, nurtures it, but often buckles under the consequences of the mess she has made. She spars with Tim McInnerny’s creepy, manipulative Judge Brack and enjoys the hold she has over Colin Tierney’s brilliant but weak Loevborg. As the play progresses she becomes ever more inward looking, thriving on her pain and frustration; as she sits by the furnace feeding in pages of Lovboerg’s manuscript, the lights dim and her face is picked out by the glow of the flames – she looks giddy, wicked, and far from blind to the outcome of her actions.
Adrian Noble’s production is handsome and solid but it is also rather blunt in places, especially in the concluding scenes. Hedda’s unease and near disgust about the child she is likely carrying are apparent already without her beating with her hands at her corseted stomach. Her despair in these last moments is perhaps, too marked, too vocal. Conversely Hedda’s fierce belief in beauty seems underplayed and her wish to see Loevborg with vine leaves in his hair becomes a hollow, airless chant.
Noble allows Pike to dominate the production and it is the right decision – she does not disappoint. She is glorious to look at, captivating, a single glowing point amid the muted reds and blacks of Anthony Ward set. Everyone else is secondary, in every sense, though there some strong support performances. Robert Glenister veers between bear-like and boyish as Tesman, genuinely moved to receive his old pair of slippers from his aunt and sometimes so happy he simply bobs up and down; he is clearly still a little baffled by the fact he has landed this strange, imposing woman as a wife. McInnerny has a kind of silken unpleasantness as Judge Brack but Tierney’s Lovborg is rather too muted and when Hedda hands him a loaded pistol, he accepts it with only a flicker of indecision.
The pacing is more sure-footed and events build inexorably towards their bleak conclusion. There is something incredibly wrenching about Hedda’s final, frantic playing of the piano before the shot and the silence that follows.
Reviewed for musicOMH