first night

Hedda Gabler

Mubasil Chaudhry watches Green Door Theatre Company tackle one of Ibsen's most timeless works.

 Green Door should certainly be commended in their decision to stage such a psychologically rich dramatic work, which is Henrik Ibsen’s Hedda Gabler. However, as the play slowly moved to its eventual climax, the production suffered from a failure to fully engage the audience with its central themes of femininity and self against society in any engaging way, largely due to the peculiar acting performances.

The play is centred on the character of Hedda Gabler (Cassandra Bailly) and her relationship with both her husband, George Tesman (Rahul Ravi) and her former affectionate friend, Eliert Lovborg (Fraser Logue). It is a fascinating psychological exploration of a character battling with the ideals of her time, prohibited in her personal resources to realise her self-responsibility whilst serving as an embodiment of the ‘New Woman’ figure, battling against the repressive society created by men. To stage such an intimate play, the venue of St Chad’s Chapel proved to be perfect, drawing the audience into the psyche of Hedda, while the lighting and blocking were highly effective as visual representations of where the characters’ emotional states and intentions were at any specific point. 

However, the acting, on the whole, proved to be highly flawed and the production was soon littered with various incredibly strange and ultimately problematic representations of Ibsen’s fascinating characters. From the outset, Rahul Ravi (George Tesman) was far too theatrical and at times ridiculously hysterical, distracting the audience from the central focus of the play and greatly diminishing the dramatic tension of certain scenes where the audience is presented with ideas on self-liberation and an individual fighting restraints in society. This portrayal of extreme childishness and failure to understand the character proved to be a fatal reoccurring error of the play, reducing Ibsen’s masterpiece to a shadow of its impact. Fraser Logue (Eliert Lovborg) also failed to deliver on the complexities of a character who is constantly caught in states of ‘in between’ – whether it be in between aristocracy and an outsider, Hedda and Thea or alcoholism and remaining sober. This is evident in the character’s final scene with Hedda, where Logue failed to highlight the affection Eliert has for Hedda alongside his immediate drunken and defeatist state in any convincing way, and could have certainly benefited from observing Trevor Howard’s precise portrayal of the role. As well as this, Astride Helene Olsen (Thea Elvstead) also proved to be almost ludicrously hysterical, shouting each line of dialogue as if perplexed by the very words she is uttering; whilst a simple-minded character, the portrayal is far too an extreme interpretation for a character Ibsen created to serve as the typical Victorian housewife, an antithesis in femininity to Hedda.

Nonetheless, the acting is not entirely flawed as Cassandra Bailly acutely captures this highly complicated, manipulating character that is Hedda Gabler. Her stage presence was incredibly powerful and she was able to deliver her lines with a resonance that allowed the audience to greater understand the conflicts Ibsen presents, an example being Gabler describing how she was ‘boring herself to death’ which, whilst whimsical, was laced with an honesty about her current condition, alluding to the restraints of society against this ‘New Woman’ figure Ibsen sought to push forward. It was her ability to fully embody the psyche and mannerisms of Gabler that were truly impressive, evidenced from instances such as the surprised yet fearful reaction to the mention of Lovborg early on, subtly hinting from the outset at a relationship between the two. Such careful articulation of a complex character, in many instances, threatened to overshadow the other characters, especially in exchanges with Judge Brack (Ram Gupta) who often failed to match the intelligence of Gabler in their exchanges, presenting a shortcoming to the highly intuitive character we see in the text; there is an evident failure in the fact that the audience never appreciates Brack to be, in many ways, a male equivalent to Gabler, but rather is dwarfed by the forceful presence of Bailly’s character.

Ultimately, the play is very well-staged in terms of set decoration and lighting, with St Chad’s Chapel proving to be a splendid venue, providing an intimacy that allows the audience to engage in the psychological aspect of the play. And whilst much of the acting proved to be highly flawed in interpreting Ibsen’s work, often removing the brilliant subtlety of the original text, the truly stunning and mesmerising portrayal offered by Cassandra Bailly in the title role will prove to make the evening worthwhile.

12 March 2016

The views expressed in the reviews and comments on this page are those of the reviewer, and are not representative of the views of DST or Durham University.
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