Live review:'Hedda Gabler' @ the island

By Tasha Nuthall  - FIVE STARS

Bristol Dramsoc’s production of Henrik Ibsen’s transformative drama Hedda Gabler sees the tragic titular character brought to life in an alluring and palpable fashion.

The production team fully incorporates the venue, encouraging us to look into the cells of the Island, a former police station, adding an immersive quality to the show. Trapped within the cells were the supporting characters, brooding silently. The stage itself is chaotic, with paper strewn across the floor and plastic drapes hanging from the rafters. Hedda (Skye Croft) sits before us, staring blankly into space, cradling a pistol. As silence falls, the supporting characters appear behind the plastic drapes, emphasising the isolation of Hedda. They rip down the drapes and the stage is plunged into darkness. The play begins.

 

Director Ivana Hladusz ramps up the tension in the opening scene, with the absence of Hedda. We anticipate her arrival, with the familiarity and jollity of Auntie Juliana (Tallula White) and George Tesman (Henry Thorpe-Spinks) being interrupted by the emergence of Hedda from her bedroom. Skye Croft is masterful

as the disturbed Hedda, prowling across the stage and causing

everyone to cower in her presence. Croft embodies the role

perfectly, savouring each word with a haughty indifference, which

is then broken down in moments of instability. Countering this is

the hapless Tesman, Hedda’s naively faithful husband. While his

unwavering enthusiasm (“joy is always farcical!”) provides comic

relief, Hedda’s disdainfor him evokes sympathy. Indeed, Croft and

Thorpe-Spinks provide electrifying performances as the

tempestuous couple.

With the play taking place entirely in Tesman’s apartment, the

narrative is driven by the tense atmosphere created by the

characters. Jake Ritblat’s caddish Brack struts arrogantly across

the stage, while Hedda relishes in humiliating the earnest Mrs Elvsted (Bobby Busvine). What I found particularly intriguing was the constant presence of Berte, the housemaid. Played by Phoebe Averdieck, Berte sits in the corner, watching the action unfold – we see the events through her eyes, as she too is an outsider, having very little impact on the narrative. However, it is the arrival of the quietly sophisticated Lovborg (Christian Leith), whose emergence sees Hedda weakened.

Hladusz’s focus on intricacies of performance adds a nuance to the show. Bouquets of flowers are scattered across the stage, and the distorted mirrors indicate Hedda’s disturbance. I particularly enjoyed the subtleties of costume design, with the elegance of Hedda’s appearance in Act 2 contrasting with that of Lovborg’s dishevelled attire, as she manipulates the scholar. Perhaps the most unsettling scene was the burning of Lovborg’s manuscript. Whilst silence torments Hedda, chaos provides relief, with the music growing deafeningly loud as she embarks upon destruction. Despite being thoroughly unsympathetic towards Hedda during the course of the play, it was this scene that emphasised the sheer poignancy of the character. Croft beautifully summarises Hedda’s troubles when she says, “it’s not so easy to master one’s thoughts.”

Hedda Gabler is one of the most alluring and intriguing plays of the 19th century, and thus I cannot help but commend Hladusz for producing such a captivating and tantalizing show.

Photos by Julia Pecyna 

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© Helicon Magazine 2019

University of Bristol