Heather Gardner is, as expected, a modern interpretation of Henrick Ibsen’s Hedda Gabler. The setting has been changed from Norway in 1890 to Birmingham in 1962. Robin French, Birmingham Rep’s new Writer in Residence, has done a brilliant job with this adaptation. Hedda Gabler is often thought of as being quite ‘heavy’ but French has enabled the classic tale to reach a new audience. Also residents of Birmingham love stories that they can relate to in some way so the references to places and occurrences during the 1960’s went down well those watching.
The Old Rep is a perfect theatre to stage the premiere of this production. The set, by Jamie Vartan, is absolutely stunning. We are treated to the Desmond home filled with objects that Heather has longed for and that her soft touch of a husband – George – has bought to make her happy. The two separate rooms provide levels and work extremely well for Mike Bradwell’s staging. The set is in fairly muted tones and allow Heather, dressed in brighter colours, the dominance that she requires in the piece.
Rick Fisher did not have a great deal to do with the lighting design apart from differentiating between night and day and defining certain key moments; but what he did do was to compliment the production well. Dan Hoole’s sound design was also excellent in the space.
Hedda Gabler is known as one of the great dramatic roles that a woman can play in theatre; one of which Sheridan Smith portrayed impeccably at the Old Vic last year. In this case, Heather is played by the beautiful and wonderfully talented Elisabeth Hopper. She encapsulates the character perfectly; alluring and intimidating. There is a real sense of bipolar disorder as she flits from being so sure of herself and then appearing completely unhinged. She makes a very interesting watch.
James Bradshaw as George plays the academic, naïve husband well. Real empathy is felt towards his character having witnessed how he is being used by Heather. Also Christopher Ettridge as Peregrine Brand gives a great performance throughout, especially when he is finally able to back Heather into a corner towards the end of the play. He has the control over her rather than the other way round and hence does not end well!
The Birmingham Rep, as producers of the production, always cast extraordinarily well and the entire company were valuable assets to the play. Mike Bradwell was able to bring out the best in the performers and as Director did a phenomenal job.
Heather Gardner is only on at the Old Rep Theatre until Thursday (March 28). Catch it while you can.
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