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The Theatreguide.London Review

Gate Theatre      Autumn 2008

Lucy Kirkwood's play updates Ibsen's Hedda Gabler to 21st-century London.

Ordinarily my response to such exercises is 'Don't fix it if it ain't broke,' but in this case Kirkwood nicely illuminates some aspects of Ibsen's play while creating a taut psychological drama of her own.

As in Ibsen, Kirkwood's Hedda is a posh woman married to a dull academic, who over-romanticises a bad boy from her past, now a reformed alcoholic on his way to the top.

Out of boredom and an over-fanciful image of his Byronic side, she pushes him toward a relapse and then to self-destruction, only to have it all turn unbearably tawdry and empty for her in the end.

Kirkwood follows Ibsen's text rather closely, with only a few minor factual changes - a busybody aunt is now an older sister, and a manuscript that plays a key plot role is now a memory stick - and with the characters updated with little damage to their identities.

Ibsen's play was at least in part about a big woman trapped by a small and sexist world and by her own limited imagination and courage. These wouldn't quite work in the modern setting, and Kirkwood has to write in some unconvincing lines to explain why, for instance, Hedda doesn't have a career of her own.

What Kirkwood is able to bring out, however, is the image of a posh bitch who has gone through life with the never-questioned assumption of her superiority, who now has to discover how totally powerless and irrelevant she is to the world.

That is a believable and dramatically satisfying equivalent to the emotional journey of Ibsen's Hedda and is, in fact, a piece of what's there in the original - and it keeps the modern Hedda sympathetic even at her most monstrous.

Director Carrie Cracknell creates and sustains the believable modern setting, pushing the play past the few moments where the 19th-century cracks peep through.

Cara Horgan accomplishes the very difficult task of laying Hedda before us in all her egocentric meanness and still making us care about her.

Tom Mison is a more self-aware Tesman than usual, and Kirkwood has written him a lovely speech of devotion to Hedda which he delivers with such naked sincerity that he almost steals the play away from the title character.

Adrian Bower is more believable as the reformed debauchee than as the relapsed one, and Christopher Obi's buddy-who'll-stab-you-in-the-back isn't quite as menacing as the oily judge of the original.

Gerald Berkowitz

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Review of Hedda - Gate  Theatre 2008


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