‘Hedda Gabler’ was written by Norwegian playwright Henrik Ibsen in 1890. This version was translated by Azores born, British playwright, Christopher Hampton who studied languages at New College, Oxford. Hampton is best known for his 1988 Oscar winning script, ‘Dangerous Liaisons’ and the recently Oscar nominated screenplay, ‘Atonement’. Whilst still a student his play ‘When Did You Last See My Mother?’ was performed at Oxford. It was semi-autobiographical and about the adolescent homosexuality at his boarding school.
This wonderful production of ‘Hedda Gabler’ is at the Melville Theatre, corner of Stock Road and Canning Highway, Palmyra. The play begins at 8.00 pm, except for the Sunday 22nd when the matinee starts at 2.00 pm.
The latest version of ‘Hedda Gabler’ was written by Andrew Upton, which is a much more raw play with Hedda being an overtly nasty, manipulative villain who is still very much under the control of her dead father, General Gabler. In this Hampton adaptation, she is on the surface a normal kindly woman, who much more subtly ingratiates herself with those around her, but truly has a heart of stone.
In a house in Kristiania (now Oslo) Berte, the maid (Charmaine Coleman) is nervously filling numerous vases with flowers sent by friends to welcome back the Tesmans from their 6-month honeymoon. Berte is uneasy because the mistress must be kept happy.Hedda’s new husband, the nervy, bubbly and fawning, Jørgen Tesman - George (Patrick Whitelaw) is talking to his Aunt Julle Tesman (Rosemary Longhurst). In buying their new house, George ran out of cash, and not wanting to let down his beautiful new, but demanding bride, Hedda Gabler (Olivia Darby), he asked his Aunt Juliane for a loan. He obtained the money, with a little extra being thrown in by family friend, Judge Brack (Cary Hudson). However, does the judge possibly have other reasons for chipping in? Jealousy begins and Hedda becomes more resolute and stubborn. Whilst on their honeymoon, Tesman - as Hedda prefers to call her husband - combined the romance with research for his new book. As the play progresses, it becomes plain that feministic Hedda has little love for her husband – even squirming in his presence - or anyone else around her. She is totally self-centred and aloof. Her desires and demands have little logic, and yet she always seems to get what she wants. Her ingratiating arrogance is less than subtle. Thea Elvsted (Carmen Miles), an old school adversary, who Hedda beat up and cruelly teased daily, arrives at the house. Thea is now the wife of a wealthy, aging magistrate. A few minutes later, George Tesman's academic rival, and Hedda’s ex-lover, Ejlert Løvborg (Matthew Lister) arrives at their door. Their conversation grinds to a stop, Mrs. Elvsted appears to have some power over Løvborg. Thea has just helped Løvborg, who has been wasting his ability, as he recovers from his chronic alcoholism. She has encouraged him to write the textbook, very similar to George’s work, this they call their ‘new baby’. The new book is a huge success and a threat to Tesman, who is now faced with major competition for the post of Professor, which until now was guaranteed to be his. This problem is compounded by the fact that Hedda and himself have been spending in advance, on entertaining and luxuries on the expectation of getting the post. When George learns that Løvborg is concentrating on his next book, rather than get a permanent job, Tesman and the Judge invite Løvborg out for a drink. He refuses, but they say that he must show strength of character and he submits. Will the Tesmans ever find true happiness and security?
The director, Kirilee Lennerts, and the cast have obviously discussed the various traits and personalities intensely, as the whole cast showed tremendous depth of persona. Olivia Darby delicately played Hedda as illogical, cold and supercilious, yet the audience could see what a puppeteer Hedda was, pulling the strings of all of those around her and getting precisely what she wanted. Patrick Whitelaw showed how George, although highly intelligent, was pathetically under Hedda’s spell. The whole cast were excellent, Carmen Miles showed the torment that she was suffering, from Ejlert’s drunkenness – great performance from Matthew Lister. Delightful and powerful performances all-round, not a weak link.
The costumes (Hustle and Bustle) were stunning. The set (Jeff Hansen) was simple in décor, but well fitted out with antique furniture.
A small whinge. Unfortunately I find the Melville lighting always – for the last half dozen shows – has a very poor evenness. I don’t know whether the lights need to be rearranged. The masking drape hanging across the rear of the set, always casts a metre deep shadow on the back wall. Down stage left there are dark patches, and in this play, as the cast walk from the fire to the front of stage the lighting was very variable. Sorry.
I prefer this Hampton adaptation to the Upton one. This is a very fine example of how Ibsen would have intended his play to be presented. A brilliant cast and superb direction. Most enjoyable.
The award-winning outrageous Broadway musical from Mel Brooks.