Hedda Gabler (review)

Hedda Gabler. Photo by Robert Day.

Hedda Gabler. Photo by Robert Day.

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THERE are few more powerful female characters in the theatre than the bullying, bitchy and overwhelming Hedda Gabler and the engrossing drama that bears her name makes a fitting finale to the Royal & Derngate’s Festival of Chaos.

This is arguably the strongest play in the trio which made up Laurie Sansom’s offering at the altar of the God Dionysus. It oozes passion and unbridled lust and features a woman so powerful that it is impossible not to become entranced with her.

Hedda, a woman who encapsulates hedonism, in some moment of incomprehensible foolishness, has married a fusty author whose ambitions lie with an career at the local university. Jorgen Tesman is a thoroughly decent, if incredibly dull, chap. He loves his wife to bits but is everything she despises, which makes the relationship unlikely and improbable.

But in earlier years she embarked on an all-together steamier affair with her husband’s literary and academic rival. Now, by some quirk of fate, her former lover is back with a fiancée, who was once a schoolgirl victim of Hedda’s bullying.

The tension builds throughout as Hedda tries to rekindle her affair while driving away his besotted mouse of a girlfriend.

Emma Hamilton plays Hedda with unbridled passion and her emotions are very much on show. She’s a fascinating woman - independent, free-spirited and aware that she can use her considerable sex appeal to capture any man she wants.

Hamilton is well used to the machinations and power-plays between the sexes from her role in the steamy TV romp, The Tudors, and she’s perfectly cast as a manipulative goddess.

Lex Shrapnel as the lusty, though unstable, lover, Ejlert Lovborg,and Jack Hawkins’ dry academic, Jorgen, make two perfect halves of the same man, though both are under-written to give Hedda the centre stage.

It was great to see Jay Villiers back on the Royal stage although his role as Judge Brack isn’t as fleshed out as it could have been. There are times when you wonder why Ibsen bothered creating him.

It’s a tremendous end to a series of plays which again show the versatility of the venue’s artistic director.

Hedda Gabler runs until July 28. For tickets call the box office 01604 624811 or go online www.royalandderngate.co.uk

ANNE COX