Review - Hedda Gabler at Royal & Derngate, Northampton

Hedda Gabler
Hedda Gabler
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More than a century ago Norwegian playwright Henrik Ibsen created a repressed young woman who cruelly fought for power, influence and purpose.

Remarkably the dark themes of Hedda Gabler, written in 1890, remain starkly relevant as a striking performance at Royal & Derngate demonstrated last night (Nov 28).

Updated by Patrick Marber for the National Theatre the modern version bristles with desire and regret as the eponymous twenty-something grapples boredom and hysteria in her new marital home.

Married to a dull, aspiring academic, Hedda pushes against convention and riles at the thought of child rearing.

Yet she is trapped within the high walls of a sparse apartment which are the perfect representation of her barren state of mind.

As the proud daughter of a general she longs for status and money to demonstrate her power and significance but instead must settle for controlling others through manipulation and lies.

The angular Lizzy Watts plays the beautiful, alluring Hedda with the required amount of wicked humour and demonic bitterness leaving the audience unsure of whether to love or loathe her.

The supporting cast is equally impressive, with Adam Best a standout performance as the lustful, menacing judge Brack who recognises Hedda's power plays for what they are.

Meanwhile Hedda's husband Tesman, former lover Lovborg and female nemesis Mrs Elvsted are played with conviction and poise throughout.

It is notable that the only two characters who remain on stage throughout the production are Hedda and her dour maid Berte, played by TV regular Madlena Nedeva.

At first Berte appears to be little more than a stage prop but gradually it becomes alarmingly apparent that she is the shadow of Hedda's future self - irrelevant and ignored.

The oppressive stage is perfectly suited to Derngate's high auditorium and is complemented by the atmospheric but understated use of sound and music during key plot points.

The contemporary language, staging and costumes of this historic play appear to place it within a mid to late 20th century period, prior to mobile technology and the internet.

And yet the themes are universal and play out powerfully in 2017. In a modern world where we believe we can do and have everything, we are left we an existential crisis where creativity can only be found in chaos and destruction, something Hedda knows only too well.

Hedda Gabler runs at Royal and Derngate until Saturday December 2. They can be booked by visiting www.royalandderngate.co.uk or 01604 624811.