Never before have I been so impressed with a performance; Hedda Gabler at Norwich Theatre Royal was beautiful, chaotic, moving and thought-provoking. It was gritty and dramatic often leaving the audience shocked, anxious and on the edge of their seats.
This was the third iteration of Ibsen’s classic play by Ivo van Hove, and a direct translation from the 1891 classic piece. In spite of the original being over a 100 years old, this adaptation was thoroughly modern one, which I put partly down to the minimalist Brooklyn-esque hipster apartment and the modern, yet timeless outfits.
It was my first time seeing Hedda Gabler and I knew very little about the story, which made it even more thrilling. I was lucky enough to head backstage prior to the performance to learn a bit more about how The National Theatre created Hedda’s world. To put it briefly the play follows the story of Hedda Gabler, a young, well-to-do lady who returns from her honeymoon. She is bored out of her mind and trapped inside an apartment and a marriage she hates. To alleviate her boredom, she seeks the company of the men who used to play an important role during her wild youth. After plenty of twists and turns, things start to unravel around her.
Hedda herself is a unlikeable character who is power-hungry and manipulates those around her. At time she seems mad and others perfectly sane. I’m still unsure of whether I feel for her or loathe her. I’m still questioning if she was a product of her own making or of those around her. Cate Cammack put on a stellar performance of Hedda. As she took a bow at the end you could see how emotionally and physically exhausting her performance was. Hedda had this uncanny way of drawing you in. You felt like you could predict her next move, but then something erratic, unpredictable and humorous would happen. Cate portrayed her madness down to a tee, her body language, tone of voice and the way the lurked around the stage were both eerie and mesmerising.
The set itself was designed through Hedda’s eyes to catapult the audience into her sorrow and madness. There were no entrances or exits, you were trapped inside the apartment with her. The lighting rather cleverly mimicked the sunrise and sunset so you were stuck in a vicious cycle of boredom and depression. Even the gorgeous golden sunset that flooded the stage couldn’t shake the melancholy mood. The flowers, sourced from a local Norfolk-based florist, should have added beauty. Instead they were thrown in paint covered buckets and seemed somewhat ugly; Hedda’s reality was a rather grim one.
The music further added to the tone of the evening. Hedda’s pride and joy – her piano seemed to be at the centre of the set. Yet it was beaten up, falling apart and only ever played one tune. It added to the monotony of her life and perhaps it’s disheveled appearance mirrored Hedda’s perception of herself. Joni Mitchell’s aptly name track ‘Blue’ was used repeatedly during painfully sombre scenes. The National Theatre also used a Swedish Venttone during the performance. This is a white noise machine which created a sombre and tense atmosphere. You only really noticed it when you felt a moment of light relief and the sound stopped. A very smart use of technology indeed!
The rest of the cast were fantastic too. It was such a faultless and polished performance. You could see how passionate Tesman was about his academic studies, you could feel Mrs Elvstead’s heartbreak and Juliana’s hope and desperation. While Hedda herself was a manipulative and unlikable woman, the rest of the characters did treat her like a piece of meat – you could almost feel sorry for her!
If I’m honest, I’m struggling to find fault with anything. Granted the pace seemed a little all over the place and perhaps erratic, but that just further added to the chaos and madness inside of Hedda’s world. It’s not the sort of play that you enjoy per se but it was honest, painful, brutal, yet somewhat beautiful. The National Theatre have really shown that there is beauty in madness.
Hedda Gabler at Norwich Theatre Royal runs until Saturday 11th November, before continuing on a UK Tour. For tickets click here or call 01603 630000. To read my other theatre reviews and previews click here. With thanks to Norwich Theatre Royal and The National Theatre for taking me backstage prior to the performance.