On Friday night my very lovely friend Hannah Crosby took me to see Brian Friel’s adaptation of Henrik Ibsen’s “Hedda Gabler” at The Old Vic. If those of you checking out my site last week happened to peruse the “On The Pedestal” page, you’ll have seen that Ibsen features there as one of my choice playwrights; and its always fantastic to go to a play that you’ve studied but never actually seen live.
It was excellent. Sheridan Smith of “Gavin & Stacey” and “Legally Blonde” starred as the lead. She is a superb, diverse actress and I definitely expected her to be enthralling – but she surprised me. Not because she did anything wrong, more because I always imagined Hedda to be a lot less frustrated to an apparent degree. The story is about a woman who is incessantly depressed, very manipulative, bored out of her mind, stuck in a marriage of significance and power, and constantly in mourning for her powerful father. She seems to have taken George Tesman as a husband as something “to do” yet returns from their 6 month honeymoon bored to tears and on a precipice of despair. I had always read the play and imagined Hedda to be falsely warm toward the family she has married into, to keep up appearances, but Smith played her quite obviously cold and impatient. Yes, she smiled, but though gritted teeth that were not well disguised. The rest of the characters are fools – except possibly Berta who has absolutely no authority to stand up to Hedda – and so I suppose Hedda finds it quite easy to insult them without them taking her up on it. Yet I was pleasantly surprised by the way she was portrayed – namely a sarcastic bitch! Plays are meant for viewing, rather than reading; and this was an example of why. Smith et al deserve high praise for this production, as does Anna Mackmin for colouring the script with such direction. The finale was exquisitely choreographed. Smith was perfect as the deteriorating heroine who was losing her mind second by second. As the tables turn in the fourth and final Act, we see her loose her will utterly. Those mostly responsible for the impact of the play’s ending are Mackmin and show designer Lez Brotherston. A brain being splattered against conservatory windows is no mean feat to pull off effectively on stage. It was a disturbing and magnificent image to see the curtain fall on. Who needs the “Saw” franchise?
I wondered if anyone else had analysed the production online yet and given that the show only opened for review last week there wasn’t much out there. I did stumble upon Mark Shenton’s blog on The Stage website. Rather than offering much insight or indeed a review of any of the hundreds of theatre productions he has (naturally) been invited to, he wasted his time blogging instead about how popular he is. Shenton’s blog lists how in-demand he is as a reviewer: “I’m always having to remind myself that I can’t be everywhere and I can’t see everything…‘not on my schedule’ is becoming virtually an auto-response to the endless e-mails requesting my reviewing presence,” he moans. “It doesn’t help, I know, that I miss Monday entirely as I’m in New York this weekend and return home that day (which is an early birthday gift to myself)” Oh Mark – stuck in New York! You shall have to go and see something on Broadway instead, you poor thing. One of his Twitter followers was quick to comment with this: “You can’t win Mark can you? Maybe just stay in altogether and watch the telly. I hear “Eastenders” is good?” My thoughts precisely (except for the suggestion that “Eastenders” is good)!
At the risk of getting into a Twitter war right off the bat, I suggest Mark that you hurry home and see “Hedda Gabler” and bestow us with your majestic views on it, as it’s a superb piece of theatre and I dare you to suggest otherwise…
– – A