Saturday, August 31, 2013

Theatre: Hedda

by Henrik Ibsen
Adapted by Marthe Snorresdotter Rovik and Renato Fabretti
Directed by Renato Fabretti  
With Marthe Snorresdotter Rovik, Tone Skaardal, Renato Fabretti, Richie Flanagan and Phil Miolin
The Blue Room Theatre
Until August 31 
The world’s in a bit of a spin over all things gritty and Scandinavian. Our televisions (or at least the best bits of them) are tuned to grim Swedish skies (various Wallanders and Girls With Tattoos) and rotten days in Denmark (serial Killings and Borgens) – the two countries have even combined forces, if not bodies, over The Bridge.
As far as I’m aware, the Norwegians have yet to join this small-screen splatter party, so this very tight, contemporary take on Henrik Ibsen’s Hedda Gabler comes at a fortuitous time.
It helps that the two women in the play are both played by Norwegians. Hedda (Marthe Snorresdotter Rovik, who adapted the original with director Renato Fabretti) and her old friend Thea (Tone Skaardal) are very modern women, but bear the same undertow of repression and paternalism that Ibsen saw in 1890’s Norway. 
Then, as now, the Scandinavian countries are seen as leaders in the emancipation and equality of women in society; Ibsen saw it differently, and Rovik and Skaardal, who, one suspects, are more familiar with the undertow than we are, give their characters an authenticity beyond mere accents and language. (The script occasionally reverts to Norwegian when Rovik felt no satisfactory English translation could be found; it creates no confusion, and adds significantly to the productions authenticity).
Hedda is one of the very greatest women in drama; her agony and ennui, her psychopathy, her magnetism and repulsiveness are pregnant with opportunity, and full of pitfalls, for both adaptor and actor. As Hedda destroys everything around her, and finally herself, she’s a Lady Macbeth without the need for a Thane; in her attack on the intellectual and orderly, and her nihilism, she’s both Hamlet and his mother.
I thought Rovik was wonderfully strong as Hedda. You can instantly understand why the men in her orbit – her husband Tesman (Richard Flanagan), her old lover Løvborg (Fabretti) her lascivious patron Dr Brack (Philip Miolin, once again in top form) – break against her with a force like gravity. Rovik’s smile is treacherous, her eyes also, and Fabretti cleverly keeps her on the centre-line of the traverse stage, like a fencer on the piste, armed and dangerous to everyone, herself included.
The men and Skaardal all give fine support to Rovik, and the sharply-written script travels the 120 years between Ibsen’s time and ours with remarkable ease (books become laptops, notes become messages and answering machines, but people essentially remain the same). There’s a good serve of zingers, one almost from the Elmore Leonard playbook: Brack demands Hedda to meet him in his flat for an ex gratia payment: “Toots, it’s only one floor down – maybe you should do some stretches”, some delicately drawn direct from Ibsen: “I have only one talent, Mr Brack. I am exquisitely skilled at boring myself to death”, and “Can you imagine a girl might like to run her hands along the idea of a man?”
In these, and the beautiful “A girl just twirls and twirls and the dance turns and turns and at some point her legs just come out from under her, don’t they?” you can only spiral down into the dark art of Ibsen, and praise the skill and talent of this production for bringing him to us fresh and new.

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