Movie: Hedda Gabler

Australian audiences can now pass judgement on one of the most talked about plays in London this year – Ivo van Hove’s new production of Hedda Gabler.

 The Hedda Gabler company.

The Hedda Gabler company.*

The play, which has just finished its run at London’s Lyttelton Theatre, is the latest offering from National Theatre Live (NTL).

NTL filmed the March 9 performance of the play and it’s showing in selected Australian cinemas from April 1.

As a result of a new adaption by playwright Patrick Marber the play has a contemporary feel. The setting is an austere unfinished flat/apartment with hardly any furniture. Joni Mitchell’s music appears at different stages during the production while Hedda spends much of the play wearing only a cream negligee.

 Kyle Soller and Ruth Wilso

Kyle Soller and Ruth Wilson.*

Hedda in this performance comes across as a woman of the 21st century.  And it’s this modernisation that’s causing some of the greatest discussion as the work was first performed in the 1890s. It’s argued the role of women today in society is very different now than it was then.

However all agree that the performance of Ruth Wilson as Hedda is outstanding. It’s seen as one of the most demanding roles in the theatre and has been played by such actresses as Ingrid Bergman, Maggie Smith and Cate Blanchett.

Wilson brilliantly plays this bored, very unhappy and manipulative Hedda.

Chukwudi Iwuji and Ruth Wilson

Chukwudi Iwuji and Ruth Wilson.*

Understandably there has also been widespread praise for Kyle Soller who plays her husband Tesman. In this production Tesman is seen an ambitious young lecturer who does seem to love his wife but is also most concerned about his career.

Opinions have been divided on the performance of Chukwudi Iwuji and Rafe Spall. Iwuji plays Lovborg, Tesman’s academic rival and Hedda former lover, who Hedda manipulates into considering committing suicide. Spall plays the brutish manipulative Judge Brack who ultimately causes Hedda’s downfall.

Like the production itself I found Iwuji and Spall’s performances compelling, albeit hard at times to watch.  Brack’s physical treatment of Hedda, for example, is particularly disturbing.

 Ruth Wilson and Rafe Spall

Ruth Wilson and Rafe Spall.*

Having read the London reviews before attending NTV’s movie it was interesting to watch van Hove and the cast discussing their thoughts on the play, and their characters, in an interval feature.

For me this added to an appreciation of what is a very demanding and dark but thought provoking production of a classic.

Hedda Gabler is screen in selecting cinemas around Australia from April 1. For more information visit the Sharmill Films or National Theatre Live website.

*Picture credit: Jan Versweyveld

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