Hedda Gabler is a very hard play to get right. Henrik Ibsen’s late play is about a recently married woman (the titular Hedda) who proceeds to destroy the lives of almost everyone around her for no other apparent reason than she is “bored.” This is where the difficulty comes in: if the tone of the play is misjudged, Hedda (here played by Misha Leggett) can seem like a petulant psychopath, while the play’s other characters come across as stupid. This production had a difficult job to do and it delivered.
The director (Joanna Bowman) has a track record of excellent work in St Andrews and her experience and ability were on full display in this production, getting marvellous performances out of all of her actors. Aesthetically, the staging of the production was excellent, with a set design stylistically reminiscent of Ivo Van Hove’s work. This aesthetic was encapsulated by a wonderful final flourish, where the white ribbons that made up the set collapsed in on the action as Hedda shot herself. In less skilled hands this could come across as gimmicky, but under Bowman’s direction, the moment felt undeniably earned. Despite this, the show’s scene transitions could have done with tightening up, as there were times when they felt sloppy.
This said, with regards to direction, I’m not sure that the characterisation of Hedda quite worked. Hedda was played very apathetic (perhaps even psychotic), which somewhat undermined her wild declarations that she wants to be free. Despite this, as a result of the sheer force of Leggett’s commanding performance, this slight misstep never hurt the play.
Acting across the board was very strong. Seb Allum almost steals the show as the gentle and charming Tesman. I was impressed with his ability to maintain a genuinely warm façade while letting the audience see flashes of what Tesman’s really feeling. Jared Liebmiller also turned in a great performance as the disgraced genius Eilert Løvborg. His turn from “saved” man to disgraced in one night really worked, a testament to Liebmiller’s skill.
All in all, a wonderful production of an excellent play by one of the greatest playwrights in history. There were just a couple of little niggles that just stopped it from earning 5 owlies, but the production worked. I laughed, I felt things and I was entertained. Really what more can you ask for?