‘Hedda Gabler’ Theatre Royal, Bath, March 2010.

All hail the power of the Pike, she MADE this show.

It was pretty standard Henrik Ibsen stuff: domesticity, depression, suicide, loveless marriages, restricted females, boredom of life, it just screams social realism really, but the performance really brought the words to life. Literally, obviously. And, pleasantly, it built up gradually in excitement and action – thus meaning when it came to the second half, it wasn’t just a tying-up of ends and that’s that – things actually happened. And I was completely fresh to this particular play, and I understood it (not that it’s a rocket science, but I get complete lost in Shakespeare. COMPLETELY), which either means my intelligence is on the up or the direction was wonderful. Hopefully both. Also, I am somewhat notorious of falling asleep during the first half of a play – maybe the playwright’s words just aren’t interesting enough – but I was wide awake throughout the whole thing. Marvellous.

Our contact at the Theatre Royal had obtained us high-end seats (stalls-a-go-go!), which meant we could enjoy comfortable viewing with near-perfect visibility of the stage. Good work Tris 🙂

My first impression when the curtain rose was a mild disappointment in the set. The ideas behind it became more apparent as the play progressed, but it wasn’t made to look like a room that had been lived in, and fair enough the characters living here had just moved in and it was a reception room (therefore not going to be filled with copious amounts of informal objects), but it was sparsely populated with furniture and there was a main wall at the back drowned in red light (I felt this represented Hedda’s passion and anger rather well), and forward of that there was a white wall (which I felt representative of the bleakness and blandness of what Hedda actually received from life, and that it was restricting her real self which had to hide in the shadows). However, the technical crew had completely failed to drop a black curtain behind the red wall, thus meaning the mechanical workings of the theatre were exposed (only minutely but I knew what I was looking for!). Slight breakdown in Suspension of Disbelief but I think I may have been the only one who noticed anyway.

The costumes were visually stunning, especially Hedda’s, but they were not consistent with each other. The dresses of Aunt Juliana and Mrs Elvsted were roughly 1880s, whereas Hedda’s seemed to blend features of very early and very late 19th century fashion. They seemed to have all the simpleness of the empire-waisted dresses of the early 1800s, but without the actual empire line. In short, I’m not entirely sure if they were historically accurate at all, but they were lovely to look at. Where the men were concerned, it’s hard to go vastly wrong as suits are always in fashion, but Loevborg’s trousers were of an unusual choice – had they been any slimmer they could have passed for the very odd modern fashion of men wearing women’s trousers. Even Ibsen could not have predicted that.

Now. The lighting and sound. These were both excellent elements of the technical side – the sound desk was well on time when the “curtains” were opened offstage, and the lighting desk coordinated itself wonderfully well at this point by raising the lights for daylight on that side of the stage. They also infused red lights well with scenes that were more heated than others, increasing the feelings the audience received from the scene and adding to the ambience. The wood burner on the other side of the stage was an excellent touch too, an orange light glowing from it when the door was open, with the crackling sound of burning wood and the smoke to add to it. I was rather impressed with the sound and lighting.

Moving on to the acting. Obviously a major part. Unfortunately, the first character on was ‘Aunt JuJu’, and Aunt JuJu wasn’t very convincing at all. She was probably the weakest member of the cast, but on the plus side, this enhanced other performances and Aunt JuJu didn’t have the biggest role either. The actress stumbled her lines twice in the first scene, which surely is not a particularly professional thing to do. Bertha, the maid, was good however, and the scene progressed well from there. I always think a good support cast is essential. Tesman was marvellous: well in tune with his character, convincing, excellent voice projection – he had it all really. The same could be said of The Judge, who had an excellent character to play, but alas not of Loevborg. The latter had a particularly strong scene at the end of the first half with Hedda, but that was the only time I found he really shone. Mrs Elvsted I found portrayed in a rather irritating way – the actress seemed unable to enunciate well enough for the stage and she was so dramatic it was hard to take her seriously, but Hedda Gabler – wow. The actress literally sunk into her role, it might as well have been written for her. Her stage presence was unbelievable – I’m sure there are some who would say she “owned the stage”, although I find this an odd saying, but she was excellent, and a brilliant heroine. My favourite scene came at the start of the second half, which finished with Hedda stating “I’m burning your child” to an absent Mrs Elvsted, and I believe the audience were particularly caught up in this scene too, from their reaction at curtain down. I was feeling rather tense that the burning of the manuscript might go wrong, but all was well and it ran smoothly. The fact that Rosamund Pike played the piano on stage too was very good, it made the character that much more believable, made use of the talents of the actress and made the set come to life with the interaction of it – the piano was not a prop anymore, she was living there.

Last but not least, how was our audience? Alas for sitting downstairs, we were surrounded by the slightly more refined populus of Bath (ie. the older ones), some of whom brought along their hearing aids, and one in particular of whom wasn’t aware that theirs were screaming its head off for the first half. Also, however stealthy people think themselves to be, you can never hide the rustle of sweet wrappers, and I’m beginning to think these should be banned in the theatre. But aside from that, they were an appreciative bunch, laughed in all the right places, and it was a very full theatre. Impressive considering it was a Monday night and in the second week of its performance.

In essence, it was a wonderful performance, but the production fell down slightly with the costumes and set. Given the calibre of the show as a whole though, this was not as huge an issue as it could have been, and generally this version of ‘Hedda Gabler’ is definitely a credit to the theatre.

Aunt Juliana Tesman – Anna Carteret

Bertha – Janet Whiteside

Tesman – Robert Glenister

Hedda – Rosamund Pike

Mrs Elvsted – Zoe Waites

Judge Brack – Tim McInnerny

Loevborg – Colin Tierney


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