Sheridan Smith is
everywhere at the moment and I can see why she’s every Casting Director’s
pick. A chameleon actress, she is as
believable as the “tart with a heart” as she is General Gabler’s daughter in
the Old Vic’s production of Hedda Gabler. This is a version by Brian Friel and it is imbued with much humour, especially in the
first act. Although I applaud any play
that mixes tragedy with humour (after all there is comedy to be found in
virtually any situation) there was the odd moment on Monday night when I felt
Mr. Friel strayed a little bit into the modern day, especially when Judge
Brack, convincingly played by Darrell
D’Silva, broke into his Americanisms.
But that’s a minor bitch at what is, on the whole, an excellent
interpretation of one of Ibsen’s famous plays.
Sheridan Smith’s Hedda comes across right from the start as
rather unpleasant and a difficult woman with which to empathise. Her new husband, George Tesman, brilliantly
brought to life by the wonderful Adrian
Scarborough, is a far more sympathetic character in this production by Anna Mackmin. Irritating, yes, but devoted to his new bride
and generous to a fault when it comes to her wants and needs. He is also incredibly funny and the scene
where he goes into raptures about his embroidered slippers is absolutely hilarious.
Unfortunately his warmth and intelligence is so not enough for the
discontented Hedda. She often treats him
with palpable dislike and so believable is Sheridan
Smith that I often found myself wincing at her behaviour towards him. Having perfected little knowing smiles that not
so much hint of sarcasm as shout it from the hilltops, she keeps us in no doubt
that this lady knows what she’s doing and is very much intent upon doing it.
Meanwhile her attitude towards Tesman’s Aunty Ju-Ju (the always excellent Anne Reid)
and Bertha the maid (Buffy Davis) is one of malevolent disdain. This schoolgirl bully hasn’t learnt that that
type of behaviour is unacceptable.
from school, Thea Elvsted (excellently brought to life by Fenella Woolgar) fares no better at the hands of this Hedda Gabler
and one almost expects her to reprise the role of hair pulling school girl from
hell at any moment during their conversations.
Thea’s nervous anxiety whilst in Hedda’s company is touchingly real,
although there is more to this independent “wronged” woman than meets the eye
and this becomes apparent at the end of the play.
As a result of this,
I find it hard to reconcile this Hedda as a victim, trapped in a suffocating
marriage to a man she doesn’t love. How
does such a forceful character allow herself to accept the hand of a man so
obviously unsure of women in general and Hedda in particular? But then her father, whose portrait looms
large in the middle of Lez Brotherston’s
magnificent set, is obviously a dominating force, introducing his young
daughter to guns and horses at a very young age but, arguably very little
else. Perhaps he had a hand in
orchestrating her doomed marriage? Maybe
she was pregnant? The reason is not made
clear. What is clear though is that Sheridan Smith does excellently convey
signs of Hedda’s regret at the behaviour she is unable to curtail, whilst the
tears she sheds when Tesman rejoices the news of her pregnancy are so, so real.
A more obvious
source for her affection is the love of Thea’s life, Tessman’s academic rival,
Eilert Loevborg (Daniel Lapaine). A reformed alcoholic, thanks to the love and
attention of Mrs. Elvsted, his meeting with Hedda after a long lapse is one of
repressed emotion. Whether sincere or
not, we’re certainly left with the impression that his subsequent demise,
ultimately engineered by Hedda, is the result of the latter’s jealousy at his
relationship with her married friend.
Lez Brotherston’s set with it’s enormous glass walls and
billowing curtains and Mark Henderson’s
lighting which brilliantly evokes sunshine that is rarely allowed to permeate
the gloom of this unhappy home all help to convey impending doom. When the disaster arrives, we’re left in no
doubt as to what has happened. No off-
stage death in this different, but ultimately satisfying production of Hedda Gabler.