Looking at Euphonia Studio’s recent catalogue of work, including La Bohème, The Duchess of Malfi and now Hedda Gabler, one might be forgiven for thinking that they have a rather unhealthy obsession with miserable, doomed women.
Their productions are certainly not laugh-a-minute, and no-one could call Hedda Gabler fun; however, Euphonia have managed to create a piece of theatre which is gripping, weirdly beautiful and deeply, achingly human.
Alone in a dark room, Hedda reclines on dust-sheet covered furniture, her only company the claustrophobically relentless ticking clock and her father’s pistols – a perfect, literal example of Chekhov’s gun. Her new husband, kindly academic George, is very much in love with her but has no idea how to deal with her; he has unexpectedly found himself the proud possessor of a rare and exotic bird, when in fact a sparrow would have suited him much
better. Wilful, brilliant Hedda flutters her wings against the bars of her cage, growing ever more unstable and dangerous as her frustration builds. By the time her old schoolfriend Thea and her former lover, the equally wild Eilert Lovborg suddenly reappear in her orbit, she is a powder keg ready to explode. As she meddles with people’s lives and loves, in a spurious plot to boost George’s career which is, in fact, a desperate attempt to relieve her
own tedium, collateral damage is inevitable.
Director Alisdair Kitchen has adapted Ibsen’s masterpiece with skill and sense. Though considerably gutted (the play now runs at just under 90 minutes), and updated for a modern audience, the script flows organically and nothing of the humour, the pathos or the sense of impending disaster is lost. The only part which felt rushed was the ending; Kitchen and his cast played beautifully with painful pauses and silent, meaningful looks throughout the play, and a couple of them would not have gone amiss just before the final, shocking resolution.
As for the cast themselves, they play their very disparate characters with finesse and sensitivity. Jordan Bernarde’s George is a masterclass in loveable, oblivious bumbling, in stark contrast to Benedict Waring’s oily, devious Brack. Thea, Clea Martin, is a nervous wreck and Ollie Dickens brilliantly portrays the mercurial Eilert as a man ever on the brink of falling. Of course, the success of the play rests on Hedda’s slim shoulders, and Stephanie Schmalzle bears the weight with no sign of breaking into a sweat. Her Hedda is a study in manic energy, despairing lethargy and repressed rage. While there are certainly parallels to be drawn between her character and that of Emma Bovary, she has none of the latter’s innate silliness, and is the more pitiable and sympathetic for it. She knows that she has made her own bed, and yet she chafes against the societal restrictions which force her to lie in it. Of course nowadays a woman in her position would have much more freedom to forge her own destiny, and the decision to update the play to modern times makes her apparent powerlessness something of a nonsense; nevertheless, we believe in Schmalzle’s Hedda. We feel for her, while at the same time deploring her selfishness and her heartless machinations. We watch her careering headlong and we know she is going to crash, but we can’t tear our eyes away.
Hedda Gabler is playing at the Drayton Arms until 14th October; do go and see it if you can. It is an intelligent, poignant and moving production, and most definitely worth the considerable emotional energy you will inevitably expend.
Review by Genni Trickett
Already bored to death in her unsuitable marriage, Hedda has just returned from a tedious honeymoon with her husband George Tesman. Desperate for diversion, she has only one wish – to make a difference. When two characters from her past make an unexpected return – her old school friend Thea Elvsted, and the wild and enigmatic Eilert Lovborg – the opportunity to seize the moment is too hard to resist.
This production is the premiere of a new version by Alisdair Kitchen, Artistic Director of Euphonia Studio. Made contemporary and direct, the text is nevertheless true to Ibsen’s original.
Thursday 05 October 2017 – Saturday 14 October 2017