Theatre Review: Hedda Gabler

Hedda Gabler at the Grand

I’m branching out a little he from my model building hobby posts, I’m not sure if this is something I’ll do too more of, I shall see!

As part of my “do something different” target this year, an opportunity cropped up to go to see a play with my best friend Moni and some of her pals at the Wolverhampton Grand Theatre.  I don’t know much about Theatre, but as soon as it was suggested, I signed up for the trip.

Henrik Ibsen

I’d never heard of Ibsen (no surprise there!), but I did a little research beforehand to learn a little more about him, and was interested to discover that he was a playwright from the 1800’s who produced works that explored and challenged social expectations of his era, particularly for women and often on the psychological problems faced by individuals.  My friend suggested this play as she read one of Ibsens other plays as a student; A Doll’s House, which is one of her favourite plays.

Ibsen is now celebrated, but in his day, his plays were often seen as radical and frowned upon due to their critique of social norms, and subject matter.  Controversy is always more interesting, so I jumped at the chance to go.

Hedda Gabler

Hedda Gabler is named for the titular character; a young woman who following social conventions felt pressured to settle down and get married.  Hedda’s husband is a hardworking if uninspired academic, spending their honeymoon sifting through old parchments and documents for research.  There is no love between these two; Hedda has married for social aspirations and a luxurious home, whereas her husband Tezman (always referred to by his surname by all if I recall) has married to improve his career and because it was the “done” thing.

The play begins with Tezman and his aunt talking after his return from his honeymoon in his and Hedda’s new home.  All the while this was happening, Hedda sits in front of a piano, spoken about but never to.  This isolation is the first indication that all is not well; but things quickly escalate with the arrival of a friend Thea, who Tezman is overly affectionate to in front of his wife.  Thea talks about a competitor of Tezman called Loveberg (a troubled but seemingly more talented academic than Tezman), who his gunning for the same academic position as Tezman.  Loveberg is a reformed character, a former alcoholic who has finally beaten his demons and written a successful book.  This puts a further strain on their tenuous relationship as Hedda would be unable to lead the socially extravagant lifestyle she wanted.  In her frustration, she tears and throws flowers given as gifts all over her home.

Hedda takes the opportunity to start probing Thea for details of Lovberg.  Hedda demonstrates a skill in getting people to open up and tell her things; she can be charming, witty and funny, but there is always a slightly threatening undertone when talking to Thea.

Its at this point that I noticed that when other characters leave the stage, the do so via steps off the stage, and through the Theatre exits.  I don’t recall Hedda ever leaving the stage throughout the play – I suspect this is meant as a metaphor for how Hedda feels trapped; she is the only one restricted to the stage.

The introduction of further character, Judge Brack initially seems like a friend of Tezman, but he quickly becomes seemingly manipulative and inappropriately close to Hedda.

I won’t spoil the story of the play beyond this, but it becomes clear that Hedda amongst this environment, Hedda has lost all control over her own life.  This manifests itself as a yearning to gain some control over someone’s life given she has no control over her own.  She begins to manipulate various characters, and it doesn’t end well for most.

What did I think of the Play?

I really enjoyed the experience, as it wasn’t like anything I’d seen before.  There were certain elements that I suspect went over my head, being a bit new to the Theatre, and I didn’t find any of the characters particularly likeable (though I did find Hedda funny and smart, and Thea was fairly honest).

There were a number of themes in the play that I found myself pondering on the journey back from the Theatre, some I had obviously overthought, the concept of social conventions forcing two people into a loveless marriage seems still very much relevant, and the theme of charismatic individuals manipulating more naive or troubled characters was something that I think was interesting.  I spent a lot of the journey home very quiet as I reflected on the themes.

I’d recommend catching it if you enjoy a Theatre, or would like to give it a chance.

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