The red lighting used to convey Hedda’s moments of detachment from the outside world are a memorable highlight of the play. At first the sudden clanking sound and shift of lighting to a deep uncomfortable red is shocking as she starts out afraid of being trapped in her own head, but soon she starts to use the moment of looking out at the other frozen characters on stage to her advantage. This production choice perfectly encapsulates Hedda’s isolation and uniqueness from the other characters, and the themes of obsession and mental illness that are also a part of Henrik Ibsen’s masterpiece. Ibsen the ‘father of realism’, creates ‘Hamlet’ for a female actress, and Victoria Elliott lives up to the role. She is beautiful and sensitive, jealous, mad, violent, provocative but charming, witty and reluctant to participate in the life given to her and her increasing desperation is acted well.
The other actors are also superb. Tesman (Ed Gaughan) is lovable and bubbly, who adores Hedda even whilst she makes fun of him and pushes him away. Eilert Lövborg (Scott Turnbull), her ex-lover, a continuously depressed and dysfunctional genius, Thea (Rachel Denning), the woman who loves Eilert is a pitifully naive, optimistic character who Hedda bullied in school and you can see why. Judge Brack (Donald McBride) is also charming and lovable but has sufficient moments of lewd implications and subtly veiled threats, a lover of scandal and gossip and ultimately why Hedda decides to end the play with “an act of beauty”.
The lighting and sets (apart from the red moments I’ve already mentioned) were also memorable in their absence. The acting is forced to be good because the actors have so little to lean on, the one room that the play takes place in, limited props and naturalistic lighting exaggerates Hedda’s feelings of being trapped. All the other characters go on errands, parties etc. However Hedda spends every moment either in the room or asleep. The symbolism was impressive, not only did the pristine white floor and white walls remind me of a mental asylum or doctors office but the naturalistic lighting and the pristine quality of the set also gives the effect of Hedda’s prison being a beautiful one; “…at least let me be free of anything ugly.”
All in all, having never seen a stage production of Hedda Gabler before, I was suitable impressed. There is a reason why it is a classic and one of the most sought-after roles for an actress. Unlike so many other characters, Hedda has depth and dimension, as well as her own twisted morals that she lives her life by. Themes of feeling trapped by people and societies’ expectations of you, although written and performed over a hundred years ago, are still just as relevant and relatable today. A masterful study in human nature, stylishly and modernly adapted, and the addition of Hedda’s end remark “Oh shut the f**k up!” was so ridiculously satisfying.
Hedda gabler played at Northern Stage from 16th Feb – 8th March, and was part of Northern Stage and Greyscale Production’s ‘Queens of the North’ season.