I went to see Hedda Gabler at the Gate the other night.
It was a new version by Brian Friel (obviously, he felt Ibsen hadn’t tried hard enough).
The audience seemed to love it and I was entranced by the opportunity to get tea and a club milk at the interval – something I suspect theatre goers in New York don’t get.
I did not, however, particularly enjoy the play. Brian Friel has form on doing this kind of reworking of foreign dramatists and I have seen a couple of the things he has done from Checkov and thought they were quite good (how pleased he would be by my approbation, if only he knew). Mr. Waffle points out that in the work of Checkov there is an obvious link with the Irish experience of the “big house“. Frankly, it’s harder to see the links with the Norwegian bourgeoisie. I found that lines like “Oh holy mother of God, he’s torn it up and thrown it in the fjord” just didn’t work for me.
I thought that the play was really interesting. Full of ideas about the constraints on 19th century women and the importance of avoiding scandal and, most importantly, control. I thought that the direction did it no favours. I would love to see another version. In this version, the characters spent their time being passionate and volcanic – the Norwegians are, of course, well known for their exuberance.
Even for a modern sensibility, the plot and dialogue are sufficiently dramatic in themselves that there is no need to have the actors being quite so over the top to convey additional excitement. At one point Thea jumps and claps her hands. I would be most surprised in that featured in Mr. Ibsen’s original stage directions. It seems to me that this play would work best if the characters were more repressed. The words provide more than enough drama and the contrast between the audacity of the dialogue and a more sedate staging would, I think, make the play much, much better.
As it was, I went home feeling I had been hit over the head for two hours by Norwegians. It was also distracting that Mr. Waffle pointed out that Judge Brack had modelled himself on Hugh Laurie in Doctor House and that all of the Irish actors pronounced Lövborg’s name as lovebug.
That is all. Another play next month, if our money hasn’t run out by then.