6 January 2017

Hedda Gabler at National Theatre was stunning


This picture is so good I almost do not need to say anything else about the play.

Ruth Wilson plays the title role and she is an established star thanks to Luther and The Affair. Her name and face are the crowd-pullers in this production. She is the main reason that I wanted to see the play too because she impressed me mightily when I saw her in Anna Christie in 2011.

The poster also hinted at a minimalist production, in marked contrast to the last time that I saw Hedda Gabler at the Old Vic in 2012 when it was played as a period drama. That approach worked but generally I prefer sparse productions.

Hedda Gabler was obviously going to sell well (it is completely sold out) and so I took advantage of a colleague's Amex card and shared love of theatre to get him to book tickets a day or two before general booking opened. The keen NT members had already feasted on the best seats and we had to settle for Circle Row D. That was fine if a little unusual not to be in the first row.

The stage was set as one large bare-walled room with just a desk, sofa, piano and a few chairs.

As is the fashion, there were people on the stage when we entered, including, it transpired, Ruth/Hedda herself at the piano with her back to us.

Having people on stage but not in the scene was a technique used a few time throughout the play and it worked, as it had the last time I saw that trick used.

Another nice trick was the repeated piano motif, the introduction to Nina Simone's version of Wild is the Wind, that was used in the same way that film music is used to set the mood.

The clever thing about these tricks was the way that they were almost invisible at the time and it is only thinking about the play afterwards that I can begin to understand their importance. Being clever for clever's sake is always a risk, and I think some plays do that, but everything about the design and direction of this production was spot on.

The main beneficiary of all this was Ruth Wilson who had all the space she needed to show us her interpretation of Hedda Gabler, Hedda who could be funny, spiteful, demanding, sultry, morose and stroppy. The incident with the flowers, hinted at in the poster, was brilliant and typical.

The ending, like the three hours before it, was stunning and a fitting end to a fantastic production. I knew the story so knew what was going to happen but I was surprised by the manner in which it happened, the reactions to it and then the way the play itself closed. There is often a "that must be the end" feel to plays and I like to be among the first (or THE first) person to clap, but not this time and the ambiguity added to the experience.

I've not mentioned Ibsen yet and I am not sure how much of this production came directly from his words and how much was reinterpretation. I am usually uncertain on Ibsen (as I find some of his characters too simple) but there was no doubt this time.

This Hedda Gabler is one that I would gladly see again. It was that good.

2 comments:

  1. A Doll's House is one of my favourite plays (I studied it in High School literature) and last year I saw The Master Builder starring Ralph Fiennes. I may be inclined to Ibsen fan-dom but had not heard of this play until recently - how do you think it stacks up vs the other two I've seen?

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    1. The production of each Ibsen play that I have seen has been quite different making it had to compare the plays, so while this was the best production of any Ibsen play I have seen it is not my favourite play. If I had to put them in sequence (today) it would go Ghosts, Doll's House, Hedda Gabler, Master Builder, The Lady from the Sea.

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