Theatre Review: HEDDA GABLER – The Lowry, Salford

Lizzy Watts as Hedda Gabler

Lizzy Watts as Hedda in HEDDA GABLER. Photo Credit: BrinkhoffMögenburg

Dark, gripping and strikingly staged, HEDDA GABLER is a reinvigorated classic with plenty of style and substance

When HEDDA GABLER was first performed in 1891, it was considered shocking and provocative play ahead of its time. Nearly 130 years later, Henry Ibsen’s masterpiece has been given a new lease of life in a bold new contemporary production by National Theatre.

Adapted and reworked by Olivier award winning playwright Patrick Marber, HEDDA GABLER opens with Hedda and Tesman returning home from their six month long honeymoon. Feeling trapped and bored, Hedda seeks distraction where she has always sought distraction – in men. But things are different now and as Hedda tries to control and manipulate those around her, her world around her begins to unravel.

Dark, gripping and strikingly staged, every inch of this National Theatre touring production of HEDDA GABLER boasts the fire and style of the original. Director Ivo van Hove together with designer Jan Versweyveld strip back any unnecessary grandeur from the piece to deliver a simple, modernised version of the text that focuses on subtlety and talent.

Versweyveld’s bleak, stylish and minimalist set initially looks light and spacious but soon starts to enclose as the play develops. With no doors entrances or exits on stage, almost every approach to the Tesman household is down the auditorium aisles, giving the feeling that there is no way in or out and creating a sense of entrapment for both the audience and the title character.

Annabel Bates (Mrs Elvsted), Lizzy Watts (Hedda Gabler) and Richard Pyros (Lovborg) in Hedda Gabler. Photo by BrinkhoffMögenburg

Annabel Bates, Lizzy Watts & Richard Pyros in HEDDA GABLER. Photo Credit: BrinkhoffMögenburg

But the real joy of this production is in the clarity of the characters. Lizzy Watts gives a brilliant contemporary portrayal as the fragile anti-heroine Hedda Gabler, bringing life and colour into a character who isn’t necessarily interesting on paper. The supporting cast deliver an equally hypnotic performance, particularly Abhin Galeya as the dependable and reliable Tesman, Richard Pyros as writer Lovborg and Adam Best as the charming but manipulative Judge Brack.

Yet while there are moments of genius in HEDDA GABLER, the play isn’t without some drawbacks. There is an issue with climactic build and the tempo feels a little all over the place. Some of the humour is also too clever at times, occasionally falling flat with the audience.

That said, these are minor issues which don’t take away from the outstanding cast performances. All in all, this is a reinvigorated classic with plenty of style and substance.

4 out of 5 stars

HEDDA GABLER runs at The Lowry until 4 November 2017