Saturday, July 20

Hedda Gabler – Bread And Roses Theatre

Out of all of Henrik Ibsen’s dramatic works, Hedda Gabler remains one of his most notorious. Featuring a supremely complex central character, it’s a realistic play that still leaves a lot up to interpretation — giving director Mya Kelln plenty to sink her teeth into in 13th Night Theatre Company’s new revival at The Bread & Roses Theatre.

Set in an ambiguous time period, we follow 48 hours in the life of titular character Hedda (Eliza Cameron), a newly married woman who’s returned from a lengthy honeymoon with her academic husband Jörgen (Jack Aldridge). While navigating the boredom of her new life in a house she hates, the return of Jörgen’s academic rival — and, as it turns out, Hedda’s former romantic interest — Eilert Lövborg (Bede Hodgkinson) sets the character onto a path of manipulation and destruction.

The action begins as soon as the audience enters the space, as Hedda meticulously inspects and rearranges the furniture, comprising a plain set of white chairs and a table. The stark simplicity of the staging offers the perfect canvas for Kelln to paint the vividly detailed drama onto.

The cast of seven are all very strong performers, delivering this adaptation of Ibsen’s famous words with clarity and depth. Lani Blossom Perry especially shines as the sweet yet naive Thea Elvsted, while Hodgkinson bares a tortured soul as Eilert, who has just written his latest masterpiece.

But an issue I had with this production from its early scenes was in its characterisation of Hedda.

Cameron is extremely talented, with a strikingly expressive face and rich vocal tone, but it feels like Hedda’s emotions are dialled up to ten from the start. Rather than giving us a sense of Hedda’s repression and boredom, it appears as though Hedda detests almost every other character from the get-go, speaking through gritted teeth and snarls, which hinders the gradual development of these complicated relationships with this multi-layered character.

The strongest moments are when we see Hedda in moments of desire, whether that’s for romance, sex, excitement, or power. We see this especially in her deliciously tense interactions with the slimy and rakish Judge Brack (Olsen Elezi), as well as her more vulnerable moments with Eilert.

Seeing more of these peaks and troughs in Hedda’s emotions would have made the climactic moments pack a greater punch. For instance, there’s a wonderfully disturbing scene in Act Two where Hedda destroys Eilert’s new beloved manuscript, but subtler displays of her rage in the preceding scenes would have made this an even more shocking moment.

The dialogue is largely delivered in a naturalistic way, which suits the text perfectly and shows off the cast’s skills. But the actors also regularly perform the dialogue out to the audience rather than to each other, which offers a chance to take in their precise facial expressions, but also prevents us from developing a more authentic understanding of their relationships. Similarly, Kelln incorporates moments of synchronised movement into some of the duologue, which tend to act as a distraction rather than a way to highlight the drama.

The production generally is paced very well, with the tension bubbling throughout Act One, and yet it feels like certain critical scenes towards the end hurtle towards their conclusion without giving the audience enough time to process what is happening. I found the ending in particular visually striking, but its aftermath unfortunately rushed.

With that being said, this is certainly an entertaining production that shows great promise for the newly established 13th Night Theatre Company. The cast are a delight to watch, and Jacob Hirschkorn’s lighting design works well with Kelln’s sound design to heighten the drama on stage.

Hedda Gabler is a brave and ambitious production with lots of brilliant ideas — some just could benefit from being scaled back and further grounded.

Playing until 13th July,

Reviewer: Olivia Cox

Reviewed: 4th July 2024

North West End UK Rating:

Rating: 3 out of 5.