Sunday, October 2

Hedda (After Ibsen) – Soho Theatre

Hedda is an avant-garde re-imagining of the early text Hedda Gabler by esteemed realist writer Henrik Ibsen however it can be argued that it goes against everything Ibsen stood for within theatre. Any fan of the original text like myself will be likely to be left with many a mix feelings after watching this one person performance.

The story of Hedda and Hedda Gabler (1891) is one in the same, Hedda is a distasteful woman of great social status who has recently married a man who she believes is beneath her. Being away from her social class and stuck in a less than luxurious home she finds herself bored and loathing her current living situation. When a friend from the past shows up with his new manuscript and a pretty young girl at his side Hedda sees an opportunity to take control over his life and future. The play works to show the themes of power, influence, provincialism and jealousy. The key difference between the two plays is the way in which the plot is shown.

It stands to say that the cinematography in this production (directed by Jen Heyes) is nothing less than brilliant, a one actor performance to a camera can become tiresome and boring if done wrong however the visuals of Hedda are entertaining, encapsulating and hard to take one’s eyes off. Whilst I’ll admit there where elements that left me more confused such as the shots of David Hoyle dancing around in a spiked wig, overall, there were some really beautiful moments and it’s clear that Heyes had put a lot of thought into her work. There is a moment in which Hedda converses with Ibsen (both played by Hoyle) through a mirror symbolizing how Hedda has been constructed in Ibsen’s image and how she wouldn’t exist without him. This is also addressed in the same scene vocally but visually a very nice touch, I particularly enjoyed the directional choice of Hoyle wearing a bird cage over Hedda’s head to show her feeling of imprisonment within the story and how this was lifted off at the opportunity to confront Ibsen as though she is finally able to free herself for the entrapment of his writing.

Hoyle himself has the character of Hedda down to a tee. He plays the role self-righteously as a woman who looks down her nose at everyone and takes pleasure in the displeasure she can cause others. Hoyle plays the perfect Hedda because he is so incredibly unlikable in a role which an audience love to hate. In the finale scene with Judge Brach, you can see each emotion pass through Hoyle’s eyes: fear, panic, distaste, defeat and finally an understanding of what Hedda must do.

The real issue however comes down to the original purpose of Hedda Gabler in opposition to this production. Ibsen was a writer famous for his realism, he wanted to create real characters that depicted those we see in our self and society. He wanted real emotion, real conversations and so this play for over a hundred years has been staged with this in mind. Hedda however abandons all realism telling the story from the leading ladies perspective using monologues and songs. This would be all well and good if the script gave us anymore of an understanding of what goes in in Hedda’s head but there’s nothing there that an audience wouldn’t be able to infer from a good actress playing the role in the original script. There seems to be an underlining of “I did it because I was bored” and “my daddy never loved me “. Hedda is known for favouring her piano however I also have never envisioned the character to be one to break into song regularly either.

Although Hoyle gives a stellar performance, and the visual effect of the cinematography is pleasing to the eye the question is: was this play necessary and did it achieve what it set out to do? The answer: I’m not sure. The use of regular songs could easily be removed as they didn’t so much help with the plot and felt unnecessary. We didn’t learn anything new about Hedda that we wouldn’t already know without reading the play itself either. The purpose of a re-imagining should be to improve the original, develop it more or add a new point of view, I’m not too sure Hedda achieved any of those things.

It’s an interesting watch though especially if you already know the plot and the cinematography is really something worth watching.

Hedda (After Ibsen) streams online until the 13th March, see for further details.

Reviewer: Beth Eltringham

Reviewed: 13th February 2022

North West End UK Rating: ★★★