This new production of the classic play, in a modern adaptation by Patrick Marber, is directed by European bad boy Ivo van Hove. It has a lot of hype to live up to, especially with Ruth Wilson (The Affair
) in the title role. But it’s executed with style, beauty, power and raw emotion.
Wilson is captivating as Hedda. I can’t think of another actress who can wear a flimsy nightie, six inch heels, be spat at, degraded, humiliated, have her face rubbed in God-knows-what and still look nothing short of stunning.
Her pain and rage at being trapped in a joyless and loveless marriage is all consuming. However, witnessing her mental anguish while behaving in such a deplorable manner for two hours is a huge ask of the audience. I constantly wanted to shout at someone to help her. Instead she is treated as a mere object, paraded in front of a constant stream of visitors, some of whom violate her for their own ends or for mere entertainment. This is a man’s world, where the weak are despised and only the most devious and unfeeling survive. It is gruelling to witness.
The rest of the cast offer strong support. Sinead Matthews as Mrs Elvsted will make you laugh while breaking your heart. Her every weakness and vulnerability is cruelly manipulated by those around her in a pitch-perfect performance evoking pain and longing. Rafe Spall as Judge Brack is suitably charming and roguish but chillingly transforms into the stuff of nightmares. His relationship with Hedda is terrifying to behold and takes on monstrous proportions.
Set and lighting design by Jan Versweyveld perfectly represents the newlyweds’ huge home. yet a morgue would feel more welcoming and comfortable: the vast bleak space serves only to highlight the huge disconnect between characters. Sound Designer Tom Gibbons offers us the melancholy 'Blue' by Joni Mitchell between scenes. In a play which has a woman’s mental descent at the forefront this does end up feeling heavy handed. However, the sad, lonely tinkling of a solo piano in the background offers beautiful support.
If it’s festive cheer you’re after then I would give this a wide berth. If however you fancy experiencing a night of tough, confronting, challenging theatre with actors at the top of their game then I would beg, steal or borrow a ticket.
Hedda Gabler is at London's National Theatre until 21 March. To book click here. For more of the best deals on tickets and shows, visit tickets.attitude.co.uk.
Words: Matthew Hyde