The play’s the thing

Went to see the critically acclaimed Hedda Gabler at the National and left feeling it was a little over-acted, a little over-interpreted, a little over-staged.

I was pleased to have seen it and it was certainly worth the money – given I didn’t pay – but I was left with a feeling that something wasn’t quite right. Something major or several minor somethings, but it didn’t quite gel.

I guess the main problem is that we’ve seen too many strong women as victims or villains. Hedda was written as villain, but this production cast her more as victim and as a modern production it didn’t work. This wasn’t a modern woman the victim of coercive abuse, trapped in a lifestyle that is alien to her very being. This was no Helen from the Archers. This was a slightly bored woman who had decided to settle down and had settled for the wrong marriage. She could have walked out at any moment. She would have walked out halfway through her honeymoon.

But neither was she a Lady Macbeth, although there were the occasional echoes – “it’s what a wife does for her husband” when she helps clear a path for her husbands promotion against his rival and her former lover. Set in Edwardian times there would have been fewer questions about the motives of Hedda, and fewer plot distractions – what was that bloody book manuscript doing on paper rather than a memory stick?

Set in a huge white box of a single room the cast gave it their best shot and they all gave great performances in the face of a muddled and muddied production. Ruth Wilson was the standout in the leading role but even she couldn’t quite persuade me that Hedda would have followed the course she did. A misfiring that produced its own metaphor in the final scene when an accidental two second delay between a trigger being pulled and the bang of the gun-shot was met with bemused silence rather than the gasp that would be expected even with the more usual off-stage finale.

So – nearly but not quite as far as I was concerned. A mannered play about manners.

Having said all that, I would certainly still recommend a look at this one. Certainly most of the chatter around us after the close was very enthusiastic about all aspects of the production, not just the acting.

And given my impending retirement, 23 days and counting, I have decided that in future I should take on the role of grumpy old git theatre critic and start awarding stars, or lack thereof. And because I think a lot of productions deserve more than a simple start rating I’m using smilies. As you can see this play gets two smilies and two not so sure. Not quite a four star rating in old money but certainly above average.

 🙂  🙂  😕  😕

Hedda Gabbler, The National, 7 February 2017