Review: Hedda Gabler (Theatre Royal Plymouth)

Lizzy Watts stars in this touring production of the National Theatre’s adaptation

Hedda Gabbler and her husband, Tesman, return to the bleak and barren landscape of an unfurnished apartment they cannot afford. After combining a honeymoon with six months of research that Tesman hopes will lead to a lucrative professorship, Hedda is already bored.

She seeks distraction where she has always sought distraction. In men. But things are different now. Hedda is fecund, fertile, ripe. Her husband’s aunt Juliana (Christine Kavanagh) knows it, the manipulative Judge Brack (Adam Best) admires it but for Hedda (Lizzy Watts) it is a source of dissatisfaction.

Hedda Gabler by Henrik Ibsen, adapted by Patrick Marber, was performed at the National Theatre, directed by Ivo van Hove (A View from the Bridge) with set and lighting design by Jan Versweyveld. This National Theatre touring production has lost none of the fire and style of the original.

When it was first performed, in 1891, it was a shocking, provocative play. While it felt ahead of its time then, it feels scarily prescient today. While women have more control over their fertility now there is still a social pressure to conform, to follow tradition.

The joy of this production is the clarity of the characters; it’s not just about Hedda. There is dependable, reliable Tesman (Abhin Galeya) who will do whatever it takes to please Hedda, a decision that brings her no pleasure at all. Judge Brack – often played with a brutish air – is, here, charming but manipulative. The fact that he is dangerous only heightens his appeal to Hedda.

Then we have Lovborg (Richard Pyros) and Mrs Elvsted (Annabel Bates), a woman who has left her husband to work and write with Lovborg – a productive partnership that has resulted in the birth of their 'child', a work of such maturity and skill that the professorship Hedda covets for Tesman will undoubtedly go to Lovborg. What’s a girl to do? Especially a girl with a gun?

Hedda Gabler was never this much fun. Lizzy Watts gives her an energy and a willfulness that is hugely entertaining and makes her behaviour almost, almost forgivable. Together Marber, van Hove and their company have reinvigorated a classic and made it a play for today.

Hedda Gabler will tour the UK and Ireland to Edinburgh, Leicester, Salford, Norwich, Hull, Aberdeen, Northampton, Glasgow, Wolverhampton, Woking, Nottingham, Newcastle, York and Milton Keynes and Dublin.