Hedda Gabler at the Wharf is Seriously Thought-provoking

Featured Image: Chris Watkins Media

Home after previewing a dress rehearsal at The Wharf Theatre, Devizes last night, I kissed my wife goodnight. She didn’t understand the relevance, but Henrik Ibsen’s magnum opus, Hedda Gabler is one seriously thought-provoking play……

They didn’t have Billy Joel’s doo-wop fad in nineteenth century Norway, see, otherwise the protagonist’s husband, George Tesman could’ve benefitted by taking heed of the lyrics of Tell Her About It, such as the line “let her know how much she means.”

Image: Chris Watkins Media
 

Whereas it’s typical for a fellow to be wilfully pig ignorant in taking their partner for granted, George, played impeccably by Chris Smith, is seemingly oblivious of his psychological man-shed. In modern terminology one might suggest he’s on the autistic spectrum, but definitely, this academic lacks common sense over a work obsession. This is expressed rather amusingly in the opening scene with the assertive “Aunt Ju-Ju,” grandly represented by Jessica Bone.

She interrogates him in pompous nineteenth century mannerisms, in the hope of gaining some pregnancy gossip, but poor old George just doesn’t take the hint any more than Frank Spencer.

Seems he proudly spent his lengthy honeymoon researching for his new book, much to the dismay and rancour of his rather stubborn wife, Hedda, who, longing for a spirit of adventure and drama, finds herself feeling trapped, lonesome and unloved; it’d be an epic fail for Match.com!

Together, her frustrations and his nescient glee, combined with four other exceptionally well-defined characters, twists the kind narrative Ricky Gervais needs to be taking notes from. Character-driven, elements might feel comical at first, but subtle black humour is gradually collapsing into tragedy; such the reason you’ll come away from it realising its stroke of genius.

Image: Chris Watkins Media
 

A feminine Hamlet, perhaps, as the plot thickens to a dramatic climax, but I’ll relax my waffling for fear of spoilers. Though if the plot relies on conflicting characters, this wasn’t the case behind the scenes. Director, Lewis Cowen delighted to tell me the casting immediately fell into place effectively, and indeed this convincing team bounce of each other so well it’d be impossible to extract their real personalities. There’s no way I’m going to attempt to obtain trigger-happy lead role Ange Davis’s phone number, for instance, not after witnessing her sublime expressions of bitterness and contempt for her fellow characters! Her second stint at the Wharf Theatre after appearing in Revlon Girl in March; in layman’s terms, Ange takes on the protagonist roll like a boss.

Pete Wallis wonderfully plays the woeful Eilert Lövborg expressively, personifying the bleeding heart of the artist. With his heart on his sleeve and love for the bottle, he’s easily convinced, but the kingpin to George’s jealousy.

The weak and diffident Thea Elvsted is played to perfection by Anna McGrail, her despair at her broken marriage is paramount to yield Hedda’s vengeance and bullying nature.

Undoubtedly housemaid Bertha, acted subtly but professionally clownish by Merrily Powell, retains the comedy noir while it spirals into tragedy, via her shocked expressions, omniscience but knowing her place to remain silent.

The unscrupulous and advantageous persona of Judge Brack, played sternly by Rob Gill, pitches him as the dark horse, the archetypal baddie, if there has to be one. Rather the depth of all the characters, needy or lusting after Hedda in their own way, here shows far more layers to them then the typically flatness of the Hollywood template.

Image: Chris Watkins Media

For if said template is becoming tiresome for you, you know the sort; a couple or amount of people with conflicting personalities come together with an abhorrence of each other but thrust unwillingly into a set of circumstances find mutual ground and befriend with a happy ending, perhaps you should grab up a ticket for Hedda Gabler, running at the Wharf Theatre from the 19th to the 24th September. Because if the cliche template is a reversible jumper, akin to classics such as Easy Rider or Quadrophenia, this intelligently crafted dark play turns it inside out.

I mean, I’m no theatrical critic, just know what I like, but if the hospitable and non-pretentious Wharf Theatre welcome me to assess such quality productions as this, on our doorstep, I’m game!

If opposites attract, love is calmly discussing and accepting your differences, but the escape clause wasn’t so simple in days of yore, and in the confines of the era’s strict conducts, a terrible entrapment can twist a person; that’s the contemplation I took away with me after this engaging and quality production; go see for yourself.


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