Hedda Gabler – National Theatre Live

There are some nice aesthetic touches in the National Theatre’s screening of Hedda Gabler.

As Ruth Wilson, who plays the lead role, informs us in the interval, the set is a representation of Hedda’s brain. It is largely unfurnished – there is a piano, a sofa, a few pots filled with flowers, and an intercom at which a maid sits, allowing the play’s characters in and out. The walls are white, the floor bare; the light from the sliding door stage-side is the only decoration of note. Throughout the play, this fully-glazed door is used to excellent effect. The blinds opened and drawn across it act as a conduit for Hedda’s mental state. When open, they allow light in; when closed, they produce darkness; and when slatted, they create shadows across the stage akin to prison bars. This is a woman trapped within herself.

The emotional turmoil of Hedda is brilliantly portrayed by Wilson. She pours her heart and soul into this performance and is utterly compelling. Alongside Rafe Spall (Brack), the two of them together deliver such a commanding and accomplished piece of theatre in the final act, it is worth trudging through a fairly flat, unengaging first half. Unlike Chukwudi Iwuji, who I thought gave an arresting performance as Lovborg, I struggled with Kyle Soller’s Americanised portrayal of Tesman. I think it was because he seemed to play him too confidently – he never struck me as anything less than a successful and financially stable individual which, of course, he is not meant to be.

As for the screening itself, director Ivo Van Hove appeared to be keen to use the camera to good effect. There were very few close-up shots, whereas extreme long shots appeared frequently. These did take away a little of the dialogue, yet at the same time, the appearance of the whole stage conveyed the tangible confines of Hedda’s mind. Van Hove also seemed keen to use a haunting soundtrack over some of these scenes, particularly where Wilson stands as a lone figure. Such melancholic ballads as Leonard Cohen’s Hallelujah and Nina Simone’s rendition of Wild in the Wind bring more than a touch of despair. It is heart-breaking.

It is by no means a masterpiece. Yet Van Hove’s adaptation does deliver some sublime moments of theatre, particularly when Wilson and Spall are together. The drama does take a while to get going, yet when it does finally get off the ground, it soars. There is even a spot of live DIY before the final curtain (more meaningful and relevant than you might think).

Overall, Van Hove’s Hedda Gabler falls into the category of a three-star play. Neither sneeringly awful nor amazingly praiseworthy. Simply a good watch.

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