The official start to the New Theatre’s autumn season brings this Ibsen classic to the stage with a rare combination of creativity and intelligence. Despite minor flaws, Charlotte Wright, her cast and crew have succeeded in shaping a production that is emotional, funny and very entertaining.
Hedda finds herself, through boredom, stuck in a loveless marriage, a home she must pretend to love, and company that she does not care for. As an old lover returns, animosities flare up and decisions are made which put characters lives on paths that end in disaster. Such a character trajectory is famously known for being one of the most trying for any actress, and I would hazard to say, one that Flo Hapgood has nailed. She brings to the stage a performance that is malicious and manipulative, yet that still manages to be relatable and tender. The subtlety of her performance is to be commended, and would not be possible without such a well balanced supporting cast. Despite me feeling that certain characters would have benefited from a little less of a caricatured approach, the supporting cast (Max Grant, Emma Begg, Sean Jones, Rachel Webb, Matt Wilks and Alix Hattenstone) are in their best moments, which are many, perfectly on par with their leading lady.
The directorial choice of moving the action of the play to the 1950’s, setting it in that climate of moral constraint and politeness works well with Ibsen’s text, proving once again Charlotte’s keen eye for detail and the intricacies of reworking a play’s setting is the real deal. This eye for detail is an integral part of the success of this play. The set is impressive, beautifully constructed and decorated; the lighting well thought out, with a few well designed effects. Then there is the smell. One of the most astounding experiences I have had in the New Theatre is the barrage of smells that floods the audience during the course of this play. The intense smell of flowers is the base note which mingles with tobacco smoke from the actors creating an oppressive ambience, so like the world Hedda must feel she lives in. A great deal of effort has clearly been put into costume and make up too, both of which are excellently executed.
A play which manages to, in rapid succession, take is viewers from nervous laughter, to tense anticipation and emotional turmoil, is one that is clearly well crafted. Credit to the text is of course due, but also the company that brings the performance to life. First night jitters are likely to be to blame for an over enthusiastic beginning and the occasional slip up. From what I had the privilege to witness last night, the talent at The New Theatre is maturing with every show, and this run will prove to be a memorable one for those who venture to see it.
For old time’s sake, I will add that this is only the opinion of this reviewer, whatever that may be worth.