HEDDA GABLER is sold out and has alienated media outlets across the city. Reviewers were left off the opening night list and journalists were refused interviews: the conditions are perfect for a backlash.
Perfect, except this production is very, very good. It’s not flawless, but this Hedda is still one of the best-acted plays staged by the Sydney Theatre Company this year.
For those not acquainted, the play spans one day in the life of Hedda Gabler (Cate Blanchett), a new wife recently returned from a honeymoon with her academic spouse Tesman (Anthony Weigh). Hedda is far from happy: she torments her husband’s Aunt Julle (Julie Hamilton), snaps at the family maid Berte (Annie Byron) and confesses to old friend Judge Brack (Hugo Weaving) she feels trapped. When old flame Lovborg (Aden Young) arrives, Hedda attempts, disastrously, to manipulate their lives.
In the history of theatre Hedda is significant for a swag of reasons: it was one of the first naturalistic plays and it presented a critique of the restrained position of women in society. It remains a brilliant psychological drama in its own right.
This production plays it safe in terms of staging, but exposes the play’s dark subtext with cutthroat performances. Cate Blanchett is terrific, perfectly embodying Hedda’s strength and insecurities. A discussion between Brack (Weaving) and Hedda about trains and bare ankles might be the sexiest encounter yet staged -“ and they never touch. Weaving, Justine Clarke, Aden Young, Annie Byron, Anthony Weigh and Julie Hamilton are flawless. Although the current trend of adapting rather than offering a new translation of non-English works is irritating, Andrew Upton’s revision is fresh without being anachronistic.
The only quibble is minor, yet significant. In Ibsen’s original script, Hedda’s eventual fate occurs behind drawn curtains, but not here. Director Robyn Nevin’s decision removes some of the shock, although it does allow us to witness the conclusion of Blanchett’s incredible (and unmissable) stage journey.
Hedda Gabler is showing at the Wharf 1 Theatre, Hickson Road, Walsh Bay, until 26 September.