Theatre in Wales

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“It's Me! Here I Am! It's All About Me! I'm the Director!”

Hedda Gabler

Royal National Theatre , Aberystwyth Arts Centre & All NT Live Outlets , March 9, 2017
Hedda Gabler by Royal National Theatre The announcement of the Olivier Awards this week has an item of note. The best play category includes a nomination for Jack Thorne for his work on Harry Potter. By every account he and John Tiffany have done a tremendous job. But far down the list is a genuinely superb play Rotterdam.” A packed theatre is always good but Harry Potter is a franchise; as a script it is good but nonetheless it is theatre as brand extension.

“Hedda Gabler” is not so far away in terms of name and brand appeal. The play is chosen and tickets are purchased because of Henrik. His career was long, his output exhaustive, his span arresting. The social incendiary-maker was in the last Ibsen to be reviewed on this site, the Sherman's “A Doll's House.” There is a difference between that production and this “Hedda Gabler”. Rachel O'Riordan and her creative team showed an interest in their man. A lack of attention to Henrik himself makes itself felt early on here. Design and setting are inconsistent and gimmicks of action replace the skilled crescendo and. diminuendo of drama. The actors are impressive. Their voices are set against a backdrop of music. The same two piano notes are repeated over and over with a rumble of bass. Its irritation is extreme. Confidence in the director plummets.

Critics have focussed on the actors which is fair enough. But many a theatre-goer has averred in public: “wilfully modish directorial emphases which almost destroyed the play...the end...came as a relief from his intrusiveness...the director's use of music, all overused, and a distraction...part of a trend with all contemporary directors' who need to reach out and over-excite audiences. Only Ibsen suffers, and those interested in what the playwright actually wrote.” “Masturbatory self indulgences..his is an ill conceived production from a director with absolutely no respect for the script or any apparent interest in letting actors tell a story. It is time for "Directors Theatre" to be killed off. If it is Ibsen you want - avoid this production. Its an absolute stinker and I was left unmoved and praying that Hedda's suicide would come soon! It did not come soon enough!”

The camera may tell a different story than the eye. On stage it is boring and hangs heavy. The reasons only start with the lack of interest in the source material. A contributing factor, the dire music apart, is the resetting which is half-baked. There is scope for a transfer in historical period. A year back with “As You Like It” in the same venue Polly Findlay took Shakespeare's court to a City trading floor and it was brilliant. Betty Draper like Hedda Gabler got hold of a gun; the conformist fifties would work very well. This choice of an apartment block with video intercoms and takeaway noodles simply does not. Hedda is a general's daughter; it all goes back to that. And here she is not.

A result is a jarring discontinuity between speech and action on stage. The social ambience is filled with social hugs and kisses. But it is at odds with the nature of the social formality of the action. The director is giving his spectators a literal non-sense. This reflects stylistic disjunction. The Ibsen of symbolism also features on this site. Lucy Bailey did “Lady from the Sea” with a panache of display in March 2008. (Is directorial self-advertising a thing for men?) Hedda throws flowers by the dozen, by the hundred, over the floor. That is fine. She is in turmoil. But no curtain falls and no brush sweeps them up. New characters enter and make no mention of the mess. So the humans here are ones with their senses switched off. But then they are supposed to be engaged in an action of fine social distinction and division. Humans are social, psychological and physiological entities. If the last is switched off then conviction diminishes in the others. If they are women and men without eyes that roam their environment why should anything else they do be believed.

Anthony Minghella was an artist of depth who straddled genres. “The language of theatre is a much more chewable, active, rhetorical event and depends on a kind of completeness”- and he knew both well- “whereas both film and poetry are marvellous at speaking through image and the relationship of images.” Drama works on the swing between private and public action. This projects abstraction without formal integrity. That “As You Like It” in the City was a vault of imagination that was complete. This strand of theatre is anti-theatre. It gives predominance to one player in what is an art of collaboration. The action draws attention to itself. A sofa is pulled around so that actors sit with their backs to the audience. They immediately stand up anyhow. Judge Brack kicks his jacket around the stage for no reason. It connects with nothing. Take away form and the result is bad art. It makes for dullness; time hangs very heavy.

Reviewed by: Adam Somerset

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