Chichester Festival Theatre, The Lowry Theatre & Headlong present
by Cordelia Lynn, after Henrik Ibsen
directed by Holly Race Roughan
30 August - 28th September, 2019
Review by Margret Covell
It’s quite some feat to pull off; moving one of Ibsen’s most powerful characters to the twenty first century, ageing her thirty years, but still keeping the key moments faithful to the original. And Cordelia Lynn very nearly succeeds.
Even though Ibsen’s Hedda is troubled, suppressed, conventional and, by her own admission, a bit of a coward, is there really a case for thinking she wouldn’t have been affected by the modern times she was living through? Would she still have felt she had no choice but to abandon a promising academic career to marry a man who bored her rigid? Would then have stuck with it and taken on the role of the woman who is nice, decorative, a good hostess and a wonderful support to her averagely successful husband? Would she also have made having the child she didn’t want a good reason to give up everything that made her feel alive in the hugely changed times we live in now?
In Cordelia Lynn’s new version, that’s exactly what she did. The barely suppressed frustration, anger and bitterness she feels at this self-imposed exile is almost uncomfortable to watch in Hadyn Gwynne’s uncompromising and brilliant portrayal. She paces the room like a caged animal, ready to strike. And strike she does. In an act of malicious cruelty she destroys a man’s reason to live, before handing him the means to have a ‘beautiful death’.
It’s amazing how compelling an unsympathetic character can be. For whilst we note her pain, it’s hard to empathise, particularly when it’s clear she was a cruel mother to her daughter, Thea, who she nonetheless loved as much as she was able. And now, when Thea has left her husband to be with a man, not to have an affair, but to help him write his book, it’s almost too much to for Hedda to bear. After all, this is what she didn’t find the courage to do herself.
There’s strong support with fine performances by the excellent Anthony Calf as Hedda’s professor husband, George. Jonathan Hyde as their neighbour and friend, Judge Brack is wonderfully sinister as he gradually encircles Hedda, insisting on the price that must be paid for his silence. Thea – who is Thea Elvsted, Hedda’s friend in the original, is well played by Natalie Simpson with a compelling wrung out tension. Her scenes with Hedda are particularly well realised.
Elijah, the troubled academic with whom Hedda herself had a close relationship in the past, and with whom Thea is now cerebrally involved is well played by Irfan Shamji, though I didn’t feel the necessary chemistry between him and Hedda. Jacqueline Clarke plays Aunt Julie, providing some wonderfully spirited scenes. Of special note is Bertha, who is the cleaner, sent by the agency to help sort out the old house the Tesman’s have just bought. There are no choices for Bertha – even by omission. She works to put food on the table for her family; that’s cheerfully accepted in an uncomplicated and refreshing way. I really enjoyed Rebecca Oldfield’s performance – and the extra dimension the character brought to this modern take on the classic.
Can a play written for its time be brought into this century and still feel relevant? Yes, I’m still asking questions. But that means I’m interested and intrigued. And let’s not forget that vital component, being properly, nee royally entertained. So despite those questions, thanks to some fine writing, an excellent plot and superb performances it’s still a play I’d recommend.
Box Office: 01243 781312 www.cft.org.uk
Chichester Festival Theatre / Minerva Theatre