The Fish Don’t Matter theatre company have produced a pacy but flawed production of Ibsen’s classic. Hedda Gabler is one of theatre’s great characters often likened to a female Hamlet. A young bride returning from her overlong honeymoon already bored with her academic husband who is more interested in his research then her, is trapped in a relationship and house that she does not like. She takes out her misery on those around her and tries to rekindle relationships with previous admirers but fails to find satisfaction leading to an ultimately tragic end.
The Brockley Jack playing area is not large, and the director Scott James had made it even smaller by creating an acting area demarcated by a wooden boundary containing small bunches of flowers. The result was that the cast were forever in danger of bumping into each other, requiring some uncomfortable movements to avoid collisions. There was too much unnecessary movement in the play. This is a static play, but this cast were moving around without proper motivation. Using the full Brockley Jack stage area would have allowed for more period furniture. There is frequent reference in the play to how the house has been expensively furnished to meet Hedda’s expectations, but there was only one chaise lounge and a small stool, so the cast were often reduced to sitting or kneeling on the floor, which would have been unthinkable in late Victorian society.
The use of lighting was excessive. Although it was used effectively at times to indicate changes in scene. It also changed inexplicably in the middle of scenes, as if to try and emphasise a point or line rather as one would do with underlining a book. This was distracting and unnecessary.
For the most part the acting was strong. Hedda Gabler is an incredibly difficult part to play. She is a mixture of emotions, probably psychotic, who is at the same time the victim of the society in which she lives, and a manipulator of those around her. Kelsey Short made her angry and unsympathetic, with only occasional spells when she appeared to be in a private psychotic rage, giving a clue to her internal turmoil.
Michael Flanagan excellently portrayed George Tesman, Hedda’s devoted husband, so wrapped up in his own world, that he was unable to perceive what was going on around him. Michael Martin was a very creepy and manipulative Judge Brack. At times members cast members not directly involved in the action stood around the outside of the playing area observing or representing discussions in other rooms.
The costumes were inconsistent. The ladies were all dressed in suitable Victorian attire, but Tesman looked as if he just walked in off the street and not bothered to change. Brack wore a suitable formal suit, but of too modern design and Lovborg looked as if he was wearing some form of black pyjamas. This play needs a Victorian setting, and the costumes need to be appropriate.
In its favour this was a very pacy production, only 90 minutes without an interval, the shortest Hedda I have seen. This could make it a good introduction to the play, but a longer version would allow more time for the flaws in the characters to be revealed and the tensions developed.
Playing until 14th October.
Reviewer: Paul Ackroyd
Reviewed: 5th October 2023
North West End UK Rating: