Author: Chris Wallis
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In her introduction to the text for her play Hedda Tesman, Cordelia Lynn says that “The idea was to create a piece of new writing held within Ibsen’s original play….As a way of addressing developments in socio-political conditions for women since 1891, the ages and relationships of some of the characters have been changed.” The original play is Hedda Gabler, and she has certainly succeeded with the former, but I’m not convinced about the latter.
Let’s get the formalities out of the way. It’s beautifully acted as well as being nicely directed by Holly Race Roughan, and the design by Anna Fleischle (a big old house on The Lowry’s Quays stage which has been lowered and turned into a rather intimidating thrust) works well. It reminded me of the set for another reworking of Ibsen – Ghosts at Manchester’s HOME last year.
The cast, led by Haydn Gwynne as Hedda, is uniformly excellent, and it would be invidious to single anyone out, but I’m going to anyway. Irfan Shamji as Elijah gave the most convincing performance of an unrecovered alcoholic the morning-after that I have ever seen. And Gwynne led me to thinking that most unprofessional of thoughts, how does she remember all those lines? Perhaps it was being so close or perhaps I’m just old.
If you don’t know Hedda Gabler, it doesn’t matter. This play works entirely on its own. But if you do, the resonances are startling and revealing. However you come at it, the central problem with this version, for me at least, is that Hedda is a monster. It’s difficult to write about this without spoilers, but it’s clear from fairly early on that she doesn’t love her husband of some 20 years, and probably never has done. Her daughter talks about how her mother abused her, and then the actions Hedda takes in the play – for which she always has a good excuse – are precisely the behaviour of a sociopath. She clearly likes hurting people, and sets them up to see what they will do, like putting butterflies in a killing jar.
Lynn has done a good job of keeping Ibsen’s plot, but changing the roles of some characters so the original Thea, Hedda’s friend, has become Thea her daughter; and Ejlert Lovborg, Geroge Tesman’s academic rival, has become Elijah, his pupil. But otherwise all the relationships and major actions remain the same, albeit now and not in 1891. But, whereas the idea that the denouement – no spoilers here – in the original was a consequence of the newly-married, 20-something Hedda’s social oppression as a woman, in this version the two decades-married Hedda is an entirely different persona. The main question I asked was, how have the others, particularly her husband, put up with her for so long?
For example, much play is made in the original of the fact that Hedda refuses to use the familiar form ‘du’ to address her new husband’s Aunt Julie, and when she does accidentally use it, it is a matter of celebration. But if she’d been treating Aunt Julie like that for 20 years – and Aunt Julie, by the way, is a little ray of sunshine which is probably why Hedda can’t stand her, there’s nothing for her to get her claws into – then I doubt that Aunt Julie would treat her the way she does in this play, or be delighted when Hedda finally calls her “Auntie”, Lynn’s way of translating the familiar, which works very well.
Nevertheless this is an extremely good production, and a great chance to see some excellent acting close up. But, and I return to a well worn theme here, ultimately I have to ask, why is this being done at all? We are living through the most disruptive, significant, troubling period in our history since the Second World War. Where are the plays?
Images by Johan Persson
Hedda Tesman is at The Lowry until October 19, 2019. For more information, click here.
Dear Mummy and Daddy,
I’m not quite sure what to make of my first term here at Malory Towers. It is very big and some of us whose desks are at the side can’t see everything that happens in the classroom. And it does seem odd that they didn’t finish painting the wood round the swimming pool before term started. The girls in the dorm are all SUPER, apart from one who is very snooty and a bully and none of us like her, at least we didn’t at the beginning. We spent a lot of the first half of term singing and jumping on our beds, but it got a bit boring as nothing much really happened for AGES.
There’s a really super person called Wilhelmina who likes to be called Bill and has a horse called Thunder. Bill saved the day, actually, when Gwendoline, the bully, behaved really badly to Mary Lou, and something terrible nearly occurred. I’m not sure what it was that happened – it was high up and I couldn’t see.
Then we put on the school play. We chose A Midsummer Night’s Dream by William Shakespeare. It was OK. It had music especially written by Mirabelle, who is AMAZING. She sings and plays instruments and is “vraiment Francaise”. Alicia is the oldest and tells terrible jokes. The bossiest girl is Sally. She’s probably the cleverest and she makes everyone laugh all the time without telling any jokes at all. Darrell is the bravest and tries to protect Mary Lou, who is the wettest, and I like them all very much.
But then another thing happened. Our headmistress, Miss Grayling, whom I have never met but sounds exactly like a famous actress you like called Sheila Hancock, summoned Gwendoline to her study, and when Gwen came out she was crying, because she’d had BAD NEWS and then we all understood why she had been so nasty.
So Mummy and Daddy, just to say that I’ve been a bit bored some of the time, but the other girls, who are all A LOT younger than me, absolutely love it. And the school songs are REALLY GOOD.
Lots of love
PS Please send me some chocolate and an apple for Thunder.
For more info, click here.
Photo by Steve Tanner
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