Following its acclaimed run at the National Theatre in 2017, Hedda Gabler is a production that challenges gender expectation and looks at the role of women in society. Written by Ibsen and first performed in 1891, it is best known for being highly provocative and powerful at the time.
Hedda Gabler returns home from her honeymoon with her husband Tesman, who is a good scholar but doesn’t quite have the money Hedda is used to. She is an intelligent and manipulative young woman who struggles to conform as a wife. Bored of her mundane life as a woman just expected to provide children for Tesman, she does everything in her power to cause destruction to their harmonious life.
Renowned director Ivo van Hove made his National Theatre debut with the show, and the tour maintains the style and power of the London production. With a visually engaging set that consists of white walls and open space that is sparsely furnished, it is a production that uses simplicity to highlight the emptiness of Hedda’s mind. The design has occasional flushed light, creating an atmospheric setting that captures the moments of Hedda’s anguish and frustration.
The entire play takes part in the Tesman’s living room, where Hedda spends most of her time. We see her deteriorate and lose the sense of herself as she becomes engulfed in her anger and begins to exploit the people in her life, ultimately destroying her relationships. Lizzy Watts takes on the challenging role, which some compare to being as challenging as Hamlet, and her performance is beguiling. She manages to naturally portray the obsessive and destructive character with ease and captivate the audience with her increasing frenzy. Hedda is driven to find her purpose in life, after marrying purely because she felt old, and this stems the complexity of her as a character. Watt’s performance is entirely fresh as it gives the character a contemporary feel.
Many say the power of the play Hedda Gabler resonates with the issues and gender stereotypes women are still facing today. I argue this in that I appreciate it was groundbreaking in its time, but surely we’ve moved on from this? Tackling female issues in theatre is important, not to look at and think ‘look how far we’ve come,’ but to shine a spotlight on how far we still need to go. Hedda rebels against Tesman (Abhin Galeya) and Brack (Adam Best) and her inability to be happy leads her to suicide, it’s bold and touches on important themes but doesn’t fully echo with today’s society, despite being set in the modern era. I don’t disagree it used to be a huge issue that women were just expected to be a wife, but these days we have such bigger issues to deal with and that needs to be translated on stage in order to continue to be radical and revolutionary.
Lizzy Watts in undeniably a remarkable actor that takes the part in her stride and provides a compelling performance. Watt’s high energy is enhanced by a soundtrack that heightens the emotions and suffering we see Hedda deal with on stage. It’s a dynamic production, however, I feel it is lacking pace and could be condensed into one act of around 90 minutes, allowing us to be completely consumed by the character of Hedda.
Hedda Gabler is a production that showcases exceptional acting, but I don’t feel it sits right in our modern misogynistic world, not managing to pack the right amount of punch.