Review of Hedda Gabler.
As part of our ongoing Friday News theatre reviews, this week we have a wonderful review written by one of Year 12 students whom we recently took to see Ivo van Hove's extraordinary production of 'Hedda Gabler' at the National Theatre. We aim to take our Drama A Level students to a wide range of stimulating and diverse productions, and are lucky to be able to book tickets for many shows which soon become sold out. It is wonderful to study Drama in London - the heart of the UK theatre scene - and we are thrilled by the mature, perceptive and sensitive responses shown by our students to these manifold theatrical experiences.
Hannah from Year 12 writes:
'Hedda Gabler', Lyttelton Theatre, National Theatre, 5 Stars
Ivo van Hove’s deconstructed, deliberately provocative, cinematic 'Hedda Gabler' aimed for the audience physically; first by literally shooting at us, and then by crafting a power struggle so claustrophobic that by its close many of us were physically shaken.
Ruth Wilson was a toxic Hedda: demanding suicide be committed ‘beautifully’, consumed by the power of aestheticism – when Kyle Soller’s barefoot Tesman doesn’t get his promotion, she wrecks the room, but creates a beautiful image out of it. For Hedda, her destruction gives rise to creation. And van Hove’s genius lies in always acknowledging that Hedda's trap is of her own making: she deliberately cuts off all escape routes, be that out of boredom or fear. Rafe Spall’s Brack, too, was a highlight: all grinning sleaze – a man who pushes Hedda up against a wall before she’s even aware it’s happening.
The sound design by Tom Gibbons largely consisted of intermittent discordant piano cords and three songs: Joni Mitchell’s Blue used four times, Leonard Cohen’s Hallelujah sung by Jeff Buckley, and Wild is the Wind by Nina Simone. Often the use of songs – particularly when they’re well-known – can be a lazy shorthand for the production saying what it wants to say in lyrics: a way of first shocking the audience (‘I know this song! I like/dislike this song! This song means x to me so the play must do, too!’) and then giving them a single, preconceived interpretation of the scene. Not so with Hedda. To play a song as emotionally shattering as Blue four times over is a bold move: on the first playing it seemed to match Hedda’s situation; vaguely moving, but little else. By the fourth time its significance was apparent. It played out her days the same, trapped and bored; it showed the turmoil that did exist in Hedda without her moving a muscle – the songs acted as her way of making what happened in her life seem less important. It was her way of putting what she felt into shorthand – both to avoid dealing with it and to elevate her life to what is ‘beautiful’.
From Jan Versevweyd’s dry box of a stage – the white walls and sexless furniture a gallery room, with Hedda on display – and An D’Huys’ costume design (dressing Wilson in a resourceful white silk slip that ends up spattered in tomato juice and becomes the most violent garment I’ve ever seen), the production created the stultified atmosphere of a woman so bored and trapped in her own life that when Hedda shot her guns, or staple-gunned flowers to the walls, or, finally, killed herself, the actions seemed like the inevitable and logical outbursts of a life so contained. In this fiercely feminist production, Brack’s physical domination of Hedda (‘I’m in your power’) made her suicide seem like the only viable option. Hedda’s sexual confidence was both her only power and the greatest danger to herself: she could astonish the men on stage, but only through her single body in its unpregnant state (the disgust writ large on Wilson’s face as she flinched, stomach first, away from her aunt’s probing hands) presented in a single way. She is given the lie of control through her confidence: the denigration of that means her only way to regain agency over her body is to deprive men of it – and, in the face of Brack’s assault, the only way to do that is through her death.