There's an over-riding sense of languor at the start of Amanda Gaughan's revival of Henrik Ibsen's nineteenth century Freudian tragedy, seen here in a version by Richard Eyre. As the maid Berthe removes dust-sheets from the furniture of newly-weds George and Hedda Tesman's new house, off-white curtains waft in the breeze to far off piano patterns. Nicola Daley's similarly shimmering Hedda seems to sleepwalk her way onto the chaise longue where she lays hot and clearly bothered before unveiling a portrait of her stern-looking father that perches in the corner watching everything that follows.
All this is shot to pieces once Hedda has put on her well-practiced rictus grin and, in the face of a hopelessly devoted husband, his well-meaning fuss-budget aunt Julia and his highly strung ex Thea, she looks every inch the thoroughly modern woman who has it all. When Benny Young's horny Judge Brack and Jack Tarleton's tormented Loevborg come calling, Hedda seems to be playing the older men off each other to ease the boredom of her lot and convince herself she's in charge of her own destiny as much as her illicit suitors.
Such is Ibsen's mix of high manners and extreme taboo-busting that it's hard to avoid melodrama. Yet as Hedda's mask slips from vivaciousness to hormonally driven self-destructive grand gestures, her pistol-packing, book burning neuroses look closer to 1990s in-yer-face theatre than anything. If at times a sense of mass uptightness borders on a shrillness that threatens to undermine this tale of ordinary madness, when the lights go out as Hedda takes her final shot, the lack of a body denies her the immortality she craves.
The Herald, March 26th 2015