Hedda Gabler

I try not to see the same play more than once: there’s simply too much to see that I haven’t managed to catch already. However, I also love Ruth Wilson, so when the National announced she would be starring in Ivo van Hove’s production of Hedda Gabler, I sighed and prepared myself for the booking scrum. Was it worth it? In a word – yes.

Ibsen’s play is the story of a young woman who, after a youth of recklessness, feels as though she needs to settle down and marries the dour Tesman, an academic with the promise of giving her the social stability and prestige she desires. However, she soon realises that he might not be able to offer this, and begins to think she made a mistake. Things come to a head when she runs into an old flame.

Jan Versweyveld’s set is suitably white and stark, which fits in with the idea that the couple have moved into a large flat bigger than they can afford without the furniture to fill it. I was sitting in the upper circle slips and I wasn’t keen on the way some of the action took place at the far side of the stage, unnecessarily restricting the view from audience members at that side. The bare set also led to the unfortunate consequence that voices echoed all around it, with the notable exception of Ruth Wilson’s: she was completely audible at all times.

On paper, Hedda isn’t a particularly likeable character, and she does do some pretty awful things during the course of the play. Wilson, though, makes her sympathetic, wandering across the stage like a trapped animal, doing the things she does not out of pure wickedness but out of an overwhelming feeling of desperation. No one else quite matches her, although I liked Rafe Spall as Judge Brack and Chukwudi Iwuji as Lovborg. Having seen the play before I knew what was coming, but as it moved towards its dénouement I couldn’t take my eyes away from the stage.

While far from perfect, the National’s production is worth seeing for Ruth Wilson alone. If you can’t get a ticket, see it at the cinema as part of NT Live.

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