If you decide to take on a classic drama, one that will be very familiar to most of your audience, you must approach it with caution. You must ask yourself why you are doing it and what new insights and nuances you can bring to a play that has been analysed and dissected by all the theatrical heavyweights of the past century.
Elsewhere Productions, Saga Theatre and director Dean Taylor have taken on such a classic, Hedda Gabler, and one is left wondering whether they have read any of the many critiques of the play that exist.
Hedda Gabler is a complex psychological drama revolving around a frustrated and caged tiger of a woman who yearns for romance, passion and beauty, however she has had to settle for a pragmatic compromise and a loveless marriage to a crashing bore of an academic.
Her frustrations and jealousies drive her to callously engineer the destruction of a man she once loved and whose suicide she hopes will fulfil her need to have inspired a truly tragic and beautiful act. The ignominious and vulgar truth of his demise in a bordello and her realisation that she is now even more trapped and at the mercy of an immoral Judge pushes her to the only means of escape: her own suitably dramatic death.
This is a play of subtle emotional and sexual fencing, deep, dark secrets and power struggles, but sadly this production skates shallowly over most of the depths and leaves one feeling frustrated and indifferent to the fates of any of the characters.
One can see the potential for truth and depth in the actors; Josephine Short as the eponymous anti-heroine has flashes of the caged tiger about her and Daniel Jennings has a very nice oleaginous and sinister quality, although he allows the energy and momentum of the scenes to drop at times. Gareth McChlery also has a good feel for well-meaning but dull George Tesman, but we need to share more of his inner journey, frustrations and fears.
This indeed is the general failing of the production; we need more passion and Grand Guignol-style melodrama, more Gaslight and less Desperate Housewives. Transposing the action to 1950s England does not help; it adds no new resonances and actually diminishes the power of the play. The set design by Grit Ekert is a clever attempt at symbolism, using transparent, clingfilm walls but the lighting by Nicole Smith is often intrusive and too ‘theatrical’ for the domestic setting. The music by Robert Batley is haunting but lacking dynamism.