State Theatre Company artistic director Geordie Brookman has collaborated with playwright Joanna Murray-Smith to place Henrik Ibsen’s 19th century play Hedda Gabler in a modern setting. And it works.
The relationships, manipulations, jealousy and psychological games still ring true, and the story from then resides soundly in the now.
Hedda doesn’t love Jorgan Tessman – and they’ve just married. He’s an academic who bores her senseless. It’s Eilert Lovborg, the dysfunctional drunk and talented writer who does it for her (and always has). Local young woman Thea has fallen for Lovborg too, and as she’s taking refuge in Gabler’s house after running from her husband, it’s a definite that things will get much too close for comfort. And they do.
With literary envy twisting things tighter, Lovborg’s only copy of a masterpiece stolen and destroyed by Gabler and plenty of skeletons in the closet the drama and revelations are non-stop. Shock, dark humour, deeply emotional moments and a surprising death make this show engaging, and interesting from start to finish.
Director Brookman has presented a fine ensemble and well adapted piece with precision and style.
Actor Alison Bell makes great choices for her Gabler, playing apathetic and snappy initially, allowing for her darkest head space to be revealed slowly. From the outset Hedda’s off-hand responses and almost nasty jibes lets us know that she is a difficult woman; as the plot unravels we realise that she is actually teetering on the very edge.
Cameron Goodall gives a strong performance as the nerdy live-wire Jorgan who, though not an unattractive character, is annoying enough for us to see how Hedda could find him dull. Nathan O’Keefe as Eilert plays the eccentric, alcoholic writer with tight intensity, Terrance Crawford as Judge Brack is solid and suitably sleazy and Carmel Johnson presents splendidly as Aunt Julle. Kate Cheel is a knock-out as Thea. Sad, frightened, tragic and at times gently innocent, she effortlessly makes the stage her own in several scenes.
Moody and powerful sound by DJ Trip and excellent lighting and set design by Geoff Cobham contribute much to this enjoyable and face-paced theatre experience.
Human beings are bizarre – and Ibsen’s story and the talented team involved in this production of Hedda Gabler hit this home… hard.