12 January 2017
New faces and past times
National Theatre, London
A pair of much anticipated revivals in the shadow of Waterloo Bridge represent theatre respectively at its most feminine and masculine.
The title role in Henrik Ibsen’s Hedda Gabler is perhaps the nearest equivalent that actresses in their thirties have to a Hamlet, as a performance test if not in terms of audience sympathy.
Hedda, daughter of General Gabler, whose guns she keeps as a memento, returns as Mrs Tesman with her academic husband from a honeymoon that has been a disaster in ways at which Ibsen could only hint but that a post-Freudian audience easily intuits. Excited but also frightened by her sexual power, dulled by domesticity, convinced her husband has reneged on the promise of societal status, Hedda rehearses her self-destruction by destroying those around her with lies or gibes.
The National Theatre revival is directed by Ivo van Hove, the brilliant Belgian known for his savage contemporary updatings of Arthur Miller’s A View from the Bridge and, under the title Kings of War, Shakespeare’s history plays. Characteristically, his Hedda Gabler is set in an unspecified contemporary city, with modernist furniture, musical underscoring and a metronomic sense of the ominous.
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