Review: Hedda Gabler
Adena Jacobs’ stripped back 90 minute adaptation of Hedda Gabler is yet another example of a young director using a classic play for spare parts to build their auteur reputation.
Well, it worked for Simon Stone, amongst others, and this sombre, somewhat earnest update of Ibsen’spsychological drama, openly borrows from their style, so much so, at one point I thought I was watching one long theatrical in-joke.
The setting is cool, well-heeled Los Angeles. There is a black Jag with California plates that never leaves the stage (positioned exactly where the mid-90s Ford Falcon was parked in Stone’s Death of a Salesman). The car competes with a plunge pool, a la Benedict Andrews’ Every Breath, to be the main feature in Dayna Morrissey’s crowded set. There is the mandatory glass wall room which requires actors to be miked and too often their words are rendered inaudible and so the action is dead to us. And in the middle of it all is queer artist, Ash Flanders, attempting to realise one of the most extraordinary female roles in the dramatic canon.
Flanders is a compelling performer but only does a passable job of embodying this seductive outsider. I applaud him for trying to step beyond his range but his Hedda falls flat because of a lack of nuance and energy in his portrayal. To make such a constricted reading of the part work on its own terms, the characters surrounding our tragic heroine need to hold their own and here they have been reduced to mere ciphers. That said, what saves this “Hedda” from chronic tedium are the performances of Marcus Graham as Brack and Lynette Curran as Aunt Julie.
Jacobs' production leans too heavily on languid interactions and lengthy stares into nothingness. Kelly Ryall’s discordant score plays into the uneasiness of Hedda’s predicament but the music also plays too long between act changes. There are some striking images, lit impressively by Danny Pettingill, but we never end up in a zone of real feeling and the power of the original story never punches through. Overall, there is too much mood substituting substance and a lack of real audacity.
It seems every upcoming director wants to be different but sometimes staging something good is different enough. And this isn’t very good at all.
Hedda Gabler runs at Belvoir Theatre until July 2. Bookings: www.belvoir.com.au