Transforming Ibsen’s play for modern audiences, this is a sharp and dangerously dark examination of power of the film industry that never fails to grip.
Tension infused from start to finish, Nina Segal’s powerfully dark adaptation of Henrik Ibsen’s play manages to showcase just how Hedda Gabler’s story is still as tragic and recognisable as when Ibsen originally wrote it. Re-framed to be set around a film set, with unconventional director Henrik pushing his leading actress Hedda to the brink, with art beginning to imitate life – as he encourages her to delve deeper into the character and eventually transforming into her, while she deals with her fellow cast members awkwardly for many reasons. It is safe to say that things unravel pretty quickly.
Segal’s adaptation cleverly shows how this Hollywood actress who is trying to escape the paparazzi and is feeling suffocated at her fame that led to an incident that caused damage to her reputation, hence why she is hoping to recover some of her status by doing this film in Norway. It examines male power, mental health and vulnerability effectively to bring the story powerfully into the 21st century. But equally, it cleverly brings in elements of humour to offer the audience a brief moment away from the tension, yet it never forgets its real focus: the fact that Hedda’s experience of film making will be relatable to many working in the industry today.
Directed by Jeff James, this is a slow burner of a production, which works well particularly early on, when Hedda and Henrik are playing almost a cat and mouse game with each other which is completely mesmerising to watch. However, as the production heads to its climax it feels as there could be a little more sense of urgency to highlight the tragedy even more. But the tension is beautifully cranked up in every scene and it is hard not to be completely gripped by every incident that plays out on stage.
This is enhanced even further by Hansjorg Schmidt’s clever lighting design that knows how to pull complete focus on a particular character and at the same time somehow capturing the intensity of the story, while the music composed by Kieran Lucas is subtle but still noticeable enough to help keep the audience on edge as to what is unfolding. Rosanna Vize’s set design is sleek but simple and makes full use of the Rose’s space, yet still feels intimate enough that you are thoroughly focused on the characters and the themes of the story that emerge.
The intensity of Shooting Hedda Gabler means that the cast have got to be constantly and deeply committed to their characters from start to finish – which thankfully they are. At the centre of it all Antonia Thomas as Hedda delivers a compelling and mesmerising performance, really delving deep as the character begins to realise how powerful she is and the consequences of that. But her chemistry with Christian Rubeck’s forceful and subtly aggressive Henrik is intriguing to witness as they spar and continue to challenge each other. Rubeck provides a nuanced performance that explores every aspect of the character thoroughly. The cast is completed by Joshua James (Jørgen), Matilda Bailes (Thea), Anna Andresen (Berta) and Avi Nash (Ejlert), each of whom bring a distinctness to their characters combined with insight, providing perfect support to the unfolding story.
Visually stunning, with powerful themes that are explored effectively, Shooting Hedda Gabler is one of the most gripping productions that I have seen this year.
By Emma Clarendon
Shooting Hedda Gable continues to play at the Rose Theatre until the 21st October. To book tickets visit: https://www.rosetheatre.org/