Venue: The Drama Barn
Directors: Jordan Licht & Max Adams
Producer: Jordan Licht
James Joyce loved Henrik Ibsen. He loved the Norwegian playwright so much that he wrote him an intense love letter (to which he never responded) and tried to arrange productions of his plays in University College, Dublin (at which he was never really successful). He loved him so much that he even tried to learn Norwegian. Just for him.
About a hundred years later, one of Ibsen’s plays, the fiercely psychological Hedda Gabler, finally makes its way across the North Sea. This time, however, the play takes place in York, which, similar to Dublin, is a heavily ‘Norway-influenced’ city. It is the Barn’s final production of the year, the culmination of a huge variety of shows.
Hedda Gabler (Rose Basista) is the daughter of General Gabler, a firm, resolute man from whom Hedda inherits a military will. She is newly married to George (Richard Spears), an irritating pedant who is absolutely unlike her father in every way. He is so boyishly excited about trawling through old books that he fails to notice the acute, soul-destroying unhappiness he is inflicting upon his wife.
Hedda craves a destiny to create in an enigmatic realisation of one thing of beauty. Her existential thirst is quenched firstly by the arrival of Eilert Lövborg (Sam Thorpe-Spinks), a reformed academic who previously had very disreputable connections in Oslo, and secondly by Thea (Rowena Jacobs) bursting on to the scene, who had more bravery than Hedda in leaving her annoying, absent husband.
The debauched, impudent local magistrate Judge Brack (Joe D’Angelo) also complicates issues by announcing his love for Hedda, and pervertedly hoping for a way to watch her undress without corrupting her strategic marriage. Hedda decides to manipulate the people around her. The two pistols she inherited from her father come in handy for this.
So the hectic, hardened Hedda is supposed to be played as ambiguous, contemplative, aloof, perhaps other-worldly. Rose succeeds on this front, and her performance gives way to multiple interpretations as to her character.
However, Rose’s performance sometimes lacks the emotional intensity and energy needed to drive the play forward and bring it to its all-consuming climax. Her erratic delivery sometimes failed to bring to life her indomitable iron will; as the most esteemed female character to play in all of theatre, Hedda should be untouched unless you are ready to play her with your own passions and the deep struggles of your own heart.
Gunshots, a crucial part of the play which are supposed to blast the audience to life, are not heard: they are simply quiet, unstartling clicks of pistols. This was disappointing and seemed to make the performance not quite as explosive as it should be.
Sam’s performance as Eilert, although furiously powerful (particularly his piercing, frustrated exclamation of, “You were a coward!), often feels a little too good-natured and sweet for the traumatised Eilert.
Yet the play was redeemed in more ways than one by the performances of Rowena, Richard and Joe, who were all unequivocally excellent. Joe plays perfectly and gracefully the ridiculous lecher Judge Brack; Rowena serves beautifully as the confused, displaced Thea; and Richard is a fantastically awkward and elegantly subservient George.
Additionally, a parlour containing a portrait of General Gabler rearranged and which arranges itself as the play goes on is intimately present on the set. This is a beautiful touch, showing the assembling of Hedda’s character.
Hedda Gabler is an ambitious adaptation, with its own litle attractive reworkings of Ibsen’s classic drama. However, Ibsen needs real passion and energy to pull off well, which the play had in limited supply. “If a gun is on the mantle in the first act, it must go off in the third”, Chekhov tells us. The ‘gun’ in this production was cleaned, fondled, aimed, fitted with steel extensions, but never really went truly off. Joyce wanted Ibsen to be over here so much that he probably wept at night: Ibsen’s plays should be truly relished and acted with the infinite agony they deserve.