New Diorama theatre
28 September 2013
The finale of Diana Rigg's performance of the central role. From here.
The core of Hedda Gabler survives this misguided ironic updating, though it would help if you know the original.
I don’t understand what special value was gained by this production’s reworking of Ibsen. A group of actors and writers are doing a radio recording of Hedda Gabler, though here it is claimed to be a new piece by one of the characters, Tansman.
He’s also hoping to stage the work, as a vehicle for his wife, G, the central character. He wants to stage it in an avant-garde theatre called the Black Box – the New Diorama stage here is basically a darkened box. So far, so self-referential.
The radio version quickly takes second place to the drama enacted behind-the-scenes, which turns out to be a fairly faithful updating of Ibsen, ‘vine leaves in his hair’ and all.
Towards the climax, the radio play and the ‘real life’ play merge imperceptibly. It’s all very postmodern, but in the worst sense of adding nothing and subtracting rather a lot.
If the original is wrongly felt to be melodramatic, then things are made much worse here, depicting actors in their studio. If Ibsen’s dialogue is wooden, this was no less wooden. The audience wonders whether these people overacting on purpose, because that is what they always do?
The updating makes some of Ibsen’s plot devices implausible – surely Tansman would text Løvborg to tell him he found his precious manuscript?
These anachronisms are jarring, but worse is the reduction of all the characters to drama professionals. Perhaps the bored daughter of a general would become an actress, though this surely requires more dedication than Hedda grants herself.
But reducing Judge Brack to an actor is disastrous – this monument to cynicism, dead inside as Hedda observes, loses much sense when he isn’t also a pillar of society.
If anything of Ibsen survives, it is at least the strongest part. Hedda is fascinating and absorbing, even here, where Sarah Head spends too much time searching the middle distance with her eyes.
Actually most of the actors do this, and it’s a sign the director hasn’t helped them understand their character – at one point G confesses she hasn’t grasped Tansman’s play… another painful self-referential moment, for I would suggest these actors didn’t grasp it fully either.
Still, for all that Hedda fascinates. This production doesn’t – cannot – make her any sort of a victim. Clearly she could divorce Tansman, or abort her unwanted pregnancy, options not easily open to Ibsen’s original. Even Brack’s blackmail carries little conviction here.
It’s possible to present Hedda as a victim, or as a monster, or bits of both. Here she is clearly a monster, though both charismatic and understandable, so that we cannot easily be appalled by her actions.
In this, the drama faithfully reflects an important aspect of Ibsen’s magnificent creation.