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Wednesday 7 December 2016

Review: Hedda Gabler

Hedda Gabler
Hedda Gabler

It's a tricky business, re-imagining someone else's script.

This new version of Henrik Ibsen's Hedda Gabler (originally published in 1890) raises some interesting questions. You can't help but wonder where Ibsen (the Norwegian playwright) ends and Mark O'Rowe (the man behind the adaptation) begins.

I guess we'll have to make our own assumptions based on what we've seen (we're big fans of O'Rowe) and what we haven't (uh, we sort of missed Ibsen's original). There's a peculiar sense of humour at work, and O'Rowe has left his mark, but Hedda Gabler often pushes a little too hard.

Sometimes, our leading characters engage in fluid conversation, talking over one another and leaving sentences dangling in mid-air. But there's only so much that O'Rowe can do.

When stuffy and selfish academics sob their hearts out, likening the destruction of an unpublished manuscript to that of the murder of a child, you know it's time to go home.

When boys and girls in fancy-dress start speaking to each other in riddles for no good reason, well, that's just clumsy melodrama.

Hedda Gabler features lots of it, its basic premise involving that of a troubled woman (Hedda) who married for all the wrong reasons and is now facing up to a life void of passion and excitement.

Actually, there are no redeemable characters. Hedda is a spoilt little brat and her husband, Jorge Tesman, is too wrapped up in both his work and his financial difficulties to see that his wife isn't happy.

Oh, and the man with whom he's competing for an esteemed professorship just so happens to be Hedda's soulmate (Ejlert Lovborg… a fabulous name, that).

We also have a busy-body aunt to contend with, a misguided friend and a wandering Judge (Declan Conlon doing his best Inspector Clouseau impression). Everyone argues and worries and complains. That's it, really.

A great big fuzzy screen overlooks Tesman's fancy 19th-century abode - how about that for a neat juxtaposition of the classic and the contemporary? There's a touch of over-acting going on, but for the most part, everyone plays their roles just fine, especially Catherine Walker (Hedda) and Peter Gaynor (Jorge). It's the clunky, uneventful story that's the real problem.

Put it this way, most of this play involves Hedda and her gang talking about things that we missed out on, and they take an awful long time to get to the point. Then again, that final scene is a shocker. Let's just say that you can see why O'Rowe was drawn to Hedda Gabler. that chap sure does enjoy a grim ending…

Running until May 16

Rating ***

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