>HEDDA GABLER by The Stage Club

>reviewed by jeremy samuel

>date: 11 may 2001
>time: 8pm
>venue: the drama centre
>rating: ****

>tired already? go home then
>review junkie? whitney, give them this click to sniff

>look, we know that you need to know that we, as responsible reviewers, have some quantifiable categories to rate productions, and are not just relying on some undefinable instinct or gut feeling. So to put your mind at ease, we will give you a logical rating system based on the practitioner's vision / and the reviewer's response of a particular production. Here it is then: ***** : Transcendent / Rapturous. ****: Crystal / Appreciative. ***: Transmitted / Thoughtful. **:Vague / Unsatisfied. * : Uncommunicated / Mystified. Yet in the end, you will feel that this is (1) a cheap attempt to justify the subjective arbitrariness of our rating system (2) buttressed by an interest in the logical (and inevitable) categorisation of such productions, which is (3) undermined by the cheapness of the attempt, and (4) confused by the creeping feeling you are getting that we are dead serious in our feeling that this rating system is an accurate description of the content, intent and quality of the production. Oh please -- does it even matter now? Look, at least we tried.


HEDDA GABLER is too often put down as a heavyweight piece of nineteenth-century gloom, but on closer inspection turns out to have unexpected dimensions. These are fully explored in the Stage Club's new production, which pulls off the difficult trick of making this difficult text both entertaining and accessible.

Nothing innovative is attempted by way of staging, the focus being on the text itself. The set - designed by Paul Keobnick and Jane Blundell - is one of those solid, heavy jobs you don't seem to see around any more. Depth is added with an antechamber upstage of the main acting area. The fussy period detail - knick-knacks on every available surface and lace covers - captures the stifling atmosphere of Victorian bourgeois society.

Against this backdrop Hedda is like a caged animal raging against its imprisonment. Nicola Perry turns in an imperious performance as Hedda, capturing both the character's restless anger at being trapped in genteel poverty, and the ennui that prevents her from doing anything about it. As her erstwhile suitor Lovborg, Joseph O'Keefe is every bit her match, all brooding intensity and energy.

>>'Director Phil McConnell keeps the action taut despite the wordiness of the text by uncovering the emotion behind each formal line, the tensions that underpin every conversation'

The forces ranged against Hedda are formidable, chief amongst them her Causaubon of a husband, George (the boyish Roy Marsh), set to destroy her through indifference rather than malice, and his Aunt Julia. Maureen McConnell as the aunt manages to make her relatively small role compelling by injecting an edge of menace into her portrayal of an ostensibly sweet old woman in whom the milk of human kindness has curdled into a sickly piety.

Director Phil McConnell keeps the action taut despite the wordiness of the text by uncovering the emotion behind each formal line, the tensions that underpin every conversation. By showing the subtle power games going on behind the dialogue, he unveils a gripping psychological drama that is often neglected in productions of this play.

McConnell makes good use of the space, with a particularly fine touch being the use of the recessed upstage area to create silent vignettes in counterpoint to the main action. The cast display an admirable command of the language, helped by Christopher Hampton's fluent translation.

If there is a fault in this production, it is a lack of attention to detail. One character's "abundant" hair is neither plenteous nor convincingly real. Papers are taken out of a "packed" reticule that patently contains nothing else. The actors appear uncomfortable with their costumes, the ladies in particular tripping over their hems more often than is consistent with graceful carriage - but these are minor annoyances in an otherwise strong production.

Ibsen is one of those immense nineteenth-century writers one feels the need to tiptoe around, behemoths of literature whose profiles have been magnified beyond proportion by history and the A-level board. The Stage Club is to be commended for bravery in attempting one of his more monolithic works, and for valour in carrying off the attempt with such distinction.