Hedda gets her hooks in deep.
She’s crafty, cunning, complicated, and deadly cold. She’s no ones friend, no ones lover, no ones possession. Yet she is one of the most coveted female roles in modern theatre because she is deeply fascinating and always just out of reach. Her motivations are rationally baffling but somehow instinctually clear.
She now comes to the Blue Room via Norwegian actress and producer Marthe Snorresdotter Rovik, who gives us a HEDDA for our times in this revamped, reconstructed version of Henrik Ibsen’s Hedda Gabler.
Rovik has teamed up with director and fellow cast member Renato Fabretti in this sleek and streamlined re-telling. Scaled down to five actors and set inside a carpeted runway (by designer Patrick Rowe) with what could be described as ballet barres flanking either side, this Hedda Gabler has been stripped of its stiff Victorian history and drawing room conventionality. The configuration of the stage space is odd, with three rows of seats on one side of the runway and one row of seats on the other. The result is a feeling of imbalance, with one team of audience members outnumbering the other. It’s almost like watching a boxing or wrestling match, but with, of course, far more decorum and far less noise from the spectators. Part of the fun is seeing how the people on the other side of the fence are reacting.
At the centre of this dangerous catwalk is the utterly compelling Rovik as the title character. I could barely take my eyes off her, so rich and complete was her performance. Even in moments where she was merely an observer in the room, she never dropped character for a second. She was always thinking, internalising, so that without speaking or moving, we knew that she was deeply engaged in the action, planning her next move. I would liken her to Elizabeth Taylor, who often gave performances that were at once vulnerable and volatile. Rovik’s Hedda is a dangerous vamp who clearly does not belong anywhere near other people and still, we want to be near her.
The satellites who orbit around this woman’s gravitational pull cannot help themselves. They are not in control; she has all the strings and she is pulling them expertly. Tone Skaardal as Hedda’s old school chum Thea, is like a panicking canary trying desperately to stay out of the cat’s claws. She shrinks and cowers in Hedda’s presence, but remains luminous despite Hedda’s best efforts to stamp out her inspiring light. We pity her, for she seems like no match for her dominating adversary, but Skaardal makes sure to build in an undercurrent of quiet strength in her character, so we never doubt that she will triumph.
Fabretti as Lovborg is also interesting to watch; he gives us a man battling his own demons, but he does so with gravity and constrained intensity. He is vulnerable like Hedda, struggling to reconcile his past with his potential. They both seem to secretly live in a poetic fantasy world where impulses supersede judgement.
Richie Flanagan is a tech-obsessed buffoon as the doting husband Tesman; he’s got blinders on where both his work and Hedda are concerned. Phil Miolin as Brack is superb as the slightly creepy, often inappropriate, yet necessary onlooker to the drama. His interest in the scheming and scrapping of the other four is pivotal and Miolin is mindful of that fact without capitalising on it.
The overall tone of the show is dark, but wicked. We get a perverse joy from watching this train wreck happen and Rovik and Fabretti have written a lot of twisted humour into the script. The world of HEDDA is edgy and current, without getting buried in its own modernity and losing the essence of the Hedda Gabler world that Ibsen created. This is a challenging and carefully crafted piece of theatre, expertly performed in a way that lingers in the imagination.