28th October at The Old Hairdressers
[Trigger warning: suicide]
Hedda Gabler is one of Henrik Ibsen’s more complicated plays, one that seems to be based more in real life than his others, which is why it is relatively unpredictable in its nature and very hard to get right. This is why Fear No Colours’ attempt of this particular play is very admirable. Setting it in the modern day does bring in the issues that Ibsen tried to deal with – gender roles, class inequality and tensions, feminism – but doing so cheapens them because these are issues that are openly discussed in our society to the point that they are not as revolutionary as they were when Ibsen was writing. Setting it in the modern day may might make them more recognisable, but it decreases their impact and turns this production of Hedda Gabler into another student play.
There were a few moments that I had issue with. Firstly, the montage at the beginning trying to depict Hedda’s relationship with first her husband and then her father in the form of an army jacket. Not only was I incredibly uncomfortable, but also it was completely unnecessary. If the story was told conventionally then I would have understood the different relationships without this added extra. As the saying goes, show don’t tell. The army jacket was a nice touch but then felt out of place during the entirety of the play as it didn’t seem to fit with the overall modern aesthetic.
The choice to also have Hedda shoot herself on stage in such an invasive manner was off. Whilst I can see the why the director made such a choice, seeing her shoot herself onstage loses all of its impact, and forcing it in such a way makes it seem silly rather than dramatic. I do wonder if the director was trying to make a feminist statement – she’s initially killing one form of male control over her to get rid of another – but it doesn’t stop it from seeming and looking very strange.
Hedda Gabler is a difficult character to emulate, and so Rhiannon Bird deserves credit for her portrayal of this very complicated woman. However, the slouching, swearing, loud outbursts – whilst in accordance to the character – seemed out of place most of the time. They reduced the character to a shadow of the one that Ibsen had written. The problem lies perhaps with the modernity of the setting. Hedda above all is meant to be a first-class woman and that comes with certain expectations, which she has defied to an extent, but she wouldn’t go so far as to slouch in a guest’s presence or swear loudly. I do have to commend Andrew Davies on his role as Judge Brack, who, just by his very presence and the quiet volume with which he spoke, managed to control every scene that he was in.
This is a difficult play in every way. There is no right way to do it and this was an admirable attempt as well as an interesting interpretation of the issues handled in this play. Ibsen’s work, at least for me, is a study of 19th century Scandinavian middle-class angst, and whilst Fear No Colours’ interpretation wasn’t exactly that, they did manage to get the angst part right.
[Katerina Partolina Schwartz – she/her – @katpschwartz]
[Photo credit: Fear No Colours Theatre]