Review: Hedda Gabler

Hedda GablerPresented by State Theatre Company of SA
Reviewed Tuesday 30th April 2013

This is not a direct translation of Henrik Ibsen’s (1828-1906) famous and controversial play from 1890, but a new adaptation by award-winning Australian playwright, Joanna Murray-Smith, bringing it into the present.

Hedda was spoiled by her father, General Gabler, and treats the world as though it owes her everything. With her father’s death she lost her position of wealth and privilege so married Jorgan Tessman on the expectation of his professorship.

Returning from the honeymoon they find that one of her past lovers, Eilert Lovborg, has overcome his alcoholism, thanks to Thea Elvested, who has left her husband for him, and he has produced an impressive book with another ready to publish. Judge Brack, who had brokered Jorgan’s promotion, warns that it could now be in jeopardy.

Geoff Cobham’s set design is harsh. Outside is a Norwegian winter, bleak with lifeless trees. Inside is a room in minimalist style, with only a settee and a desk and chair. His lighting design adds to the harshness, brightly lighting the room, but cold and colourless. DJ TR!P’s music is just as harsh, a barely bearable thundering beat under an electronic shrieking. Even Ailsa Paterson’s costumes seem at odds with a group of intellectuals, members of the smart set. There is no relief from Hedda’s influence.

Director Geordie Brookman ensures that there is a corresponding mood running through the play, beginning within Hedda and spreading, infecting everybody around her. Alison Bell’s Hedda is, by turns, detached, brittle, and largely uncaring. She gives a powerful and nicely understated performance, reminding us of a spider in the middle of her web pulling on threads to make the victims jump for her amusement.

Cameron Goodall’s Jorgen is ‘nice’. Goodall fills his character convincingly with warmth, gentleness, generosity, kindness, honesty and other fine qualities that, in the end, are the weaknesses that Hedda exploits.

Carmel Johnson’s Aunt Julle is a thoughtful, loving and motherly woman. Johnson finds links to Goodall’s Jorgen, bringing out complementary traits that ensure that we see where his finer qualities came from. Together they establish a clear family bond between their characters.

Terence Crawford is the power broker Judge Brack, a manipulative man who gives as good as he gets from Hedda. Crawford gives Brack a quiet inner strength with an outward tranquillity and presents him as a charismatic but often unpleasantly smug man.

Nathan O’Keefe is a wonderful comic but here he has a chance to show his equally great ability as a dramatic actor in the tragic role of the self-destructive Eilert Lovborg. His performance is multi-faceted, making Lovborg bipolar with some brilliantly executed mood swings, triggered by the goading of the mean spirited Hedda.

Kate Cheel drew plenty of praise for her recent role in The Glass Menagerie and in an outstanding performance as Thea Elvested, has justified that acclaim given to her then. There are many levels subtly occurring below the surface in her characterisation. The love for Lovborg, the support for his work and her drive to publish it are only a small part of what Cheel gives us in the role. She has a big future ahead.

You will not leave the theatre unmoved by this excellent piece of work, so be sure to make a date soon with Hedda Gabler.

Reviewed by Barry Lenny, Arts Critic, Glam Adelaide

State Theatre web site

Venue: Dunstan Playhouse, Adelaide Festival Centre, King William Road, Adelaide
Season: to Saturday 18th May 2013
Duration: 1hr 45min no intvl.
Tickets: $25 to $55
Bookings: BASS 131 246 or here

Vision Impaired performances:
Saturday 4 May 2pm and Tuesday 7 May 6.30pm
Captioned performance: Wednesday 15 May 11am

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