Sunday, September 07, 2008

Hedda (from Hedda Gabler), by Henrik Ibsen, Adapted by Lucy Kirkwood, Gate Theatre, 01-Sept-2008 – Directed by Carrie Cracknell

One of the criticisms levelled at this production is that we never really get to understand how this modern day Hedda Gabler has come to be the rather unpleasant creature that she is. While this criticism has some validity I think it has more to do with the adaptation not being adventurous enough. There are plenty of changes – maiden aunt becomes spinster sister, Lovborg’s work on a memory stick, General Gabler becomes Professor Gabler and so forth – but the plot, motivation and most of what people say remains about the same. If there isn’t enough detail about Hedda’s motivation it is, I think, actually the source material that’s at fault.
In its original setting we can take a lot of Hedda’s background for granted, There’s the position of educated women in the late Nineteenth Century and the fact that Hedda is raised as the only daughter of a widower General. We can see where she comes from just by the corseted dress and the senior military background of her father. Modernising the play means that you can’t use that convenient shorthand and you have to come up with other ideas to create a convincing modern Hedda; especially one who chooses marriage and possibly children over independence and a possibly career. I don’t think they quite succeed but it is certainly a worthwhile attempt and they get very close.
One of the things that I most appreciated about this production was that feeling of claustrophobia that I remember from when I first saw this play (Hampstead Theatre starring Lindsay Duncan) twenty years ago. It could just have been the smallness of the set in each case.
Another thing that has been said is that this Hedda isn’t very pleasant, of course I’ve never found the character sympathetic any way. I thought the point was that you are interested in her plight and I was.

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