Hedda Gabler


I was surprised to see Hedda Gabler played straight through.  It is, after all, a masterfully-wrought four act play, without padding, normally running at 2 hours 10 (with interval).  In fact in this production the Fish Don’t Matter Theatre pulled it off at 90 minutes and I was at a loss to recognise what had been missed out in the compression.

Kelsey Short, who also co-produced the play, played the part of Hedda, said to be the role every serious actress wants in her career.  Short has brought a modern sensibility to the character of Hedda who is retrospectively diagnosed (by Dr Google) as a sociopath or having borderline personality disorder.  At the time of its first performance the psychological buzzword was neurosis.  Short convincingly plays Hedda like there is a rumbling volcano of anger inside her, just waiting for a moment of weakness from anyone around her to burst out.

She delights in her indifference to anyone else’s feelings.  Constrained by the respectability she craves, Hedda is unable to break out of the societal bonds placed on women, so makes her main practical activity tormenting other people.  The only thing she is really good at, she says, is ‘boring myself to death.’  She calls love ‘sickening’ and seems excited just by the thought of ‘men in livery’ waiting on her, while the reality of her life is that one of her whims has made her husband buy a house they can’t afford.

She is, to put it mildly, a difficult woman to please, which is why Ibsen has her recently married to the delightfully amiable George Tesman played by Michael Flanagan who brings a charm and innocence to the role.  Tesman is quite unable to see what a poisonous witch he has married in Hedda.  Unlike her, he takes pleasure in the small things in life like a pair of embroidered slippers his aunt has made for him.  He is a man who, when his rival is in trouble, rushes to help.

His aunt Juliana Tesman, in many ways the moral core of the play, is a decent, self-sacrificing woman, sensitively played by Caroline Edwards.

The play is complicated by the arrival of Eilert Lovborg, both a former lover of Hedda’s and an academic rival of Tesman’s though the scale of his work dwarfs that of Tesman.  Lovborg, played by River Norris as a trendy young academic, provides Hedda with another person to manipulate in her web of lies which finally find her trapped with nowhere to go but into her own tragedy.

There were a few problems with the production.  It is perfectly reasonable for a small production company to have a basic set of a few books and flowers, but when a piece of stage furniture such as a stove is specifically mentioned in the text, more than once, and plays a part in the plot, it is reasonable to expect to see a representation of it.  Here papers (Lovborg’s masterpiece) supposedly burned in the fire were simply scattered about.

I dd not understand why the women were in 19th century costume but the man were in 21st century dress.  If the point being made was that men and women were moving in different spheres in the 1890s I think the text expressed that very clearly already.

Overall though, the production was well-done with performances that kept the audience focussed on the action throughout.