Like Hedda Gabler I’m a married woman, although in my case happily. I turn 55 this year. Had I been younger, unhappier, prettier and single I would most definitely have allowed myself to leave the Etcetera theatre in Camden, north London with a little crush on Eilert Lovborg. Chris Clynes, who trained at London Metropolitan University and recently starred in “adult” panto in a sell-out run of Jack Off the Beanstalk (quite glad I didn’t see that actually…) is wonderfully cast in this dream of a part. Charismatic and commanding on the stage, he is an actor to watch and it is not difficult to imagine this boy becoming something of a star.
This awareness added to my sorrow about the real pity about this production, which was the small number in the audience.
The recent successes of Ghosts and A Doll’s House are evidence of Ibsen’s enduring appeal in London and a strong selling point of this production of Hedda Gabler is its brevity, coming in at little over an hour and a quarter with no interval. It was cleverly re-imagined and I wished there had been a programme available so I could read more of what the director Diana Vucane was thinking in this intriguing and even charming production. There are many successful fringe productions which play nightly to packed houses, even in pub theatres. Although I know from experience that these things cost cash, if a production is good enough to be invested in to start with, it really is worth going the extra mile to get a decent campaign underway on social media, the blogs and local newspapers.
For example, simple tricks such as putting the twitter handles of @ChrusClynes, @Annema269, @BenedictWaring, @EtceteraTheatre and @FiascoTheatre itself on the A5-sized cast information sheet would enable those audience members who do show up to tweet their presence and create something of a buzz. In this day and age, there is no excuse for lack of nouse in this area. One of the utter joys of the London fringe at present is the overwhelming privilege of seeing the recent drama school graduates emerging into the spotlight for the first time. The talented young actors in Hedda Gabler deserve a bigger audience.
RADA-trained AnneMarie Highmore as Hedda Gabler invokes the right mix of fascination and revulsion for this difficult character. Hedda can be played for sympathy or played for the bad and Anna Vucane, also RADA trained, has chosen the latter. What a cow, I think (of Hedda) while at the same time empathising, even though that was in the hedonism of 1935 and this is London in the austerity of 2014.
The crucial character of George Tesman was played by Benedict Waring, who has worked with Vucane before as the lead in her short film The Friar. Waring is in demand as an actor and it is not difficult to understand why. He can change on stage to become his character in the flesh and is one of those gifted people who plays the part, not himself, which must be a joy for a good director such as this one to work with. I also totally loved Daniel Jennings as Judge Brack, another commanding stage presence coming out of the Poor School and Claire Lowrie, yet another RADA-trained actress, was beautiful and sensitive as Thea Elvsted.
At the core of Hedda Gabler, of course, are jealousy and the vengeful impulses which it stimulates. Here is a woman who has what would now be termed unfinished business with her former lover and apparently recovering alcoholic Eilert, who brings the added inconvenience of being far more gifted than his intellectual rival, Hedda’s husband. If she can’t have Lovborg then she’ll damned well have the contents of his mind. Having got these in their vulnerable manuscript form – this could have been a different story in the internet age – she tears them to death in her own drawing room. The events which have brought this virtual murder about, and the likely consequences of the deed form not only the dramatic but also the emotional centre of this ever-modern work.
There’s still time. Please go and see this play and have a look at this amazing, talented cast and direction. It really is worth the time and it is not a late evening as many experienced theatre-goers might fear with this Ibsen classic. Compelling, and riveted with dramatic tension, I was actually left wanting more.
Review by Ruth Gledhill
Chris Clynes as Eilert Lovborg
Annemarie Highmore as Hedda Gabler
Daniel Jennings as Judge Brack
Claire Lowrie as Thea Elvsted
Ben Waring as George Tesman
Directed and produced by Diana Vucane
Co-produced by Annemarie Highmore
11th to 23rd February 2014 (no show on 17th February)
Etcetera Theatre, Camden.
7 pm on weekdays and Saturdays, 6 pm on Sundays. Tickets £12, Concessions £10.
Tuesday 18th February 2014