Hedda Gabler, Old Vic

My latest theatrical adventure saw me head down to the Old Vic to see the famous Henrik Ibsen play, Hedda Gabler revised into a version by Brian Friel.

You may remember earlier in the year I saw one of Friel’s most famous original plays Philadelphia Here I Come, at the Donmar Warehouse so it was interesting to say the least to see a play by Ibsen, one of the playwrights I studied at school redeveloped into a version by a modern and also notable playwright.

Some might be horrified to think that someone had taken liberties with Ibsen’s classic drama but as Friel is of significant fame and skill I found it rather fascinating to see how he might further develop the characters or elements of the story rather than seeing it as destructive to Ibsen’s masterpiece.

Fascinating indeed it was, and expertly done. Friel added a number of jokes and theatrical humour to an otherwise sombre play, which increased the tension in the audience (of those who knew the story) as we were anticipating the impending doom of the end. Notably, and without giving too much away Friel further developed the character Thea Elvsted, an otherwise secondary character in Ibsen’s original, and also further explored Hedda’s feelings about being pregnant. And, contributing to the aforementioned increase in tension, Friel also added in a hilariously funny scene of celebration and wonder felt by Hedda’s husband George at the news of the pregnancy – meaning the ending came as a incredibly juxtaposed shock.

I’ve never seen Sheridan Smith in action so I don’t have anything to compare it to, but all of the other reviews I’ve read have commended her on her achievement with this role – she is both the model of sweetness and beauty and ruthlessly vindictive, spiteful and cruel to those around her.

Adrian Scarborough put on a fantastic performance as George – a character who can often come across as ridiculous but who is genuinely a loving and devoted husband. Scarborough balanced the ridiculous, the charm and the increased humour well.

The set design was absolutely brilliant – a luxurious new home with whitewashed walls, glass windows and billowing curtains bringing Hedda’s expensive taste and preference for the extravagant to life, but also on that reminded me of a birdcage, which is so fitting to the plot of this play set entirely in the home that the new bride never leaves. The way Smith walked around in circles through the rooms of the house added to this ‘bird in a cage’ connection incredibly well (the pic below doesn’t nearly do it justice).

I think Friel did a great job with his version and I highly recommend any Ibsen fan to go along and see it and not be put off with the changes in the story.




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