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Hedda Gabler at the Mary Wallace Theatre, Twickenham

Hedda Gabler - (c) Lizette Barlow Photography
Hedda Gabler – (c) Lizette Barlow Photography

Tucked away down by the river Thames in Twickenham is a converted protestant mission hall which is now the home of the good people of the Richmond Shakespeare Society (RSS). The theatre is named after Mary Wallace a local woman who left money in her will to pay for the adaptation of the mission hall into a venue for live theatre. There is a bust of Shakespeare just inside the entrance and on the wall over the bar is a fascinating chart of the River Thames which combines key places associated with Shakespeare – from the Globe Theatre in the East to Garrick’s Temple in the West – alongside a chronological list of Shakespeare’s oeuvre from 1590 until 1613. As well as putting on works by Shakespeare the RSS stages classics from their repertoire. The current production is well worth seeing. It’s Hedda Gabler by the great Norwegian Henrik Ibsen (1828-1906). If you want to know where all that Scandia Noir comes from look no further than Hedda Gabler. It’s a dark psychological exploration of middle-class family life with “gaslighting”, love triangles, power games, sexual frustration, ennui, jealousy and suicide.

The set by Junis Olmscheid is fantastic. It captures every detail of the ‘living room’ of the newlyweds George and Hedda Tesman (nee Hedda Gabler). The portrait of Hedda’s father a General in the Norwegian Army hangs menacingly over the room. Like a Pinter play Hedda Gabler combines the clichés of middle-class living – a chaise lounge, flowers in vases, rugs on the floor – but adds a note of menace, in this case, the General’s portrait. For we very quickly realise that Hedda Gabler is every inch her father’s daughter. She is not interested in flowers. She tells the maid to take away all these “wretched flowers”. Her passion is her pistols. Amanda Adams is superb as Hedda. She captures her smoldering sexuality and psychopathic cruelty. Bored by her marriage to the scholar George Tesman (Simon Bartlett) who is writing a book on Medieval Husbandry she decides to amuse herself by flirting with Judge Brack (Nigel Cole) and an old flame Eilert Lovborg (Paul Grimwood). The direction by Harry Medawar is slow, slow-quick, quick. And this is as it should be because we need to feel the utter tedium of Hedda’s life. Once the scene is set by the end of Act 1 the drama becomes utterly compelling. It’s like the build-up to the First World War.

There is so much to enjoy about this production. Simon Bartlett is as the naïve scholar is superb. His boyish immaturity is comically revealed as he gushes with joy on receiving a pair of blue velvet carpet slippers from his Aunt Julia (Elisabeth Salaman, deliciously done), oblivious to the hints she keeps making about Hedda being pregnant. Shana de Carsignac is spot on in the role of Thea Elvstead the runaway wife. We get a sense of Hedda as a young girl when Thea reminds her of the time she pulled her hair and then threatened to set fire to it. Nigel Cole is excellent as the manipulative Judge Brack. He shamelessly propositions Hedda into a ménage à trois and then tries to blackmail her into it as events unfold. Paul Grimwood convinces as the D H Lawrence like Eilert Lovborg. His descent into the abyss is shockingly believable. And at the epicentre of it all is Hedda Gabler. She revels in the power her sexuality gives her over these three men. We are familiar with the reality of men gaslighting women but in this play, we see a woman driven by dark desires of destruction.

4 stars

Review by John O’Brien

Hedda has youth. Hedda has beauty. Hedda has love. Hedda has everything any woman could want. But is everything enough? Or is it too much? Ibsen’s great play, first performed in 1891 and here in Christopher Hampton’s acclaimed translation, is a thrilling study of passion and power.

An amateur production by special arrangement with Samuel French Ltd.

Hedda Gabler / Amanda Adams
Judge Brack / Nigel Cole
Thea Elvsted / Shana de Carsignac
Eilert Lovborg / Paul Grimwood
George Tesman / Simon Bartlett
Julia Tesman / Elizabeth Salaman
Berthe / Muriel Keech

Scenic Design and Costumes / Junis Olmscheid
Director / Harry Medawar
Sound Design / Wayland Booth
Lighting Design / Simon Bickerstaffe

The Mary Wallace Theatre
The Embankment
Twickenham, TW1 3DU
Saturday 19th to 26th January 2019


  • John OBrien

    JOHN O’BRIEN born in London in 1960 is a born and bred Londoner. His mother was an illiterate Irish traveller. His early years were spent in Ladbroke Grove. He was born at number 40 Lancaster Road. In 1967 the family was rehoused in Hackney. He attended Brooke House School for Boys in Clapton, - as did Lord Sugar. He became head boy and was the first person in his family to make it to university, gaining a place at Goldsmiths College in 1978. He took a degree in Sociology and a PGCE . From 1982 until 1993 he taught at schools in Hackney and Richmond. In 1984-85 he attended Bristol University where he gained a Diploma in Social Administration. From 1985 until 1989 he studied part-time in the evenings for a degree in English Literature at Birkbeck College. He stayed on at Birkbeck from 1990-1992 to study for an MA in Modern English Literature. He left teaching in 1993 and has worked as a tutor, researcher, writer and tour guide. He leads bespoke guided tours on London’s history, art , architecture and culture. He has attended numerous courses at Oxford University - Exeter College, Rewley House & Kellogg College. In London, he attends courses at Gresham College, The National Gallery, The British Museum, The Paul Mellon Centre for Studies in British Art, The British Academy and The Royal Society. Read the latest London theatre reviews by all reviewers.

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