20 March – 11 April
Amanda Gaughan’s debut as Lyceum Director, a beautifully staged version of Hedda Gabler, is built on a foundation of parquet flooring—a feature of many bourgeois households in literature—its uneven distribution into a jagged base is as much an allegory for the eponymous heroine’s psyche as it is part of the stage design. This particular bourgeois household is nicely captured by the fine ensemble of actors, delivering a sharp and wry version of Richard Eyre’s interpretation of Ibsen’s classic. The surprising emphasis on humour makes it more tragi-comic than might normally be expected of a play more commonly known as a tragic portrayal of an independent but dependent woman, trying to wrest herself from patriarchal control in Victorian Norway.
Lewis Hart somewhat overplays the dull impotence of Hedda’s spouse, Tesman, but counterbalances this with his frequent, and amusing, exclamations of ‘amazing’ about almost everything that happens. Tesman’s highly strung ex, Thea Elvsted, is also depicted with humour amid her anxiety surrounding her current love, Eilbert Loevborg, who, to further complicate matters, is Hedda’s ex and one of two unwelcome suitors. Almost stealing the show, however, is the other suitor, Benny Young’s disgraceful, treacherous and lecherous would-be blackmailer, Judge Brack. With brilliant command of Ibsen’s language Young highlights its subtlety, wordplay and humour: ‘impossible, but probable.’
At the centre of this parlour room’s games, of course, is Hedda, played by Nicola Davey, who declares she wants ‘to be in the middle.’ When we first see Hedda writhing on the chaise longue, it is difficult to tell if it’s in pleasure, or whether she’s putting the anguish into languish. Perhaps both. And this sets up the tension in the heart and mind of Hedda and with her relations and manipulations. Davey’s strong, nuanced performance, peppered with wry humour, completely owns this oscillation between frustration and control, hysteria and dry, icy observation.
From the parquet flooring upwards, the stage design, by Jean Chen, works incredibly well at evoking a sense of impending menace: its silvery sheen and portentous ‘fearful flowers’; the ghostly linen curtains billowing into the room, like an inhaling/exhaling chest; the scatted burnt ashes from the stove; and the kinetic wall that suggests space but also confinement, increases the sense of claustrophobia and the trap that Hedda feels is her social position. Complementing this sense of the inevitable is the subtle lighting, neatly demarcating the passage of time and the spectral soundtrack of faint piano and washes of ambience that create an eerie other-worldiness. The costumes are redolent of the 1890s, but are tailored to reflect contemporary fashion in the costume changes, a sentiment enhanced by the dreamlike dance at the end of Act One where Hedda is redressed by her maid. In summary this is a fairly exquisite version, though not without weaknesses, of Ibsen’s study of Victorian social mores and hypocrisies, grounded by the strong cast and stage design.
Reviewer – Nicky Melville