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Ibsen's Angry Woman

Tuesday, April 18, 2017
By Deepa Gahlot

'Hedda Gabler' by Henrik Ibsen is considered one of the best and most dramatic parts for a female actor. Because she is so dislikeable and manipulative, it is difficult to bring out her unhappiness—as she says, she has no talent for life.

Ivo van Hove has directed a new production of the play for the National Theatre, but brought it from the 19th to the 21st century, setting it in an almost bare loft-life space, where Hedda’s self-inflicted desolation is heightened.

Ibsen, who wrote the classic 'A Doll’s House', one in which Nora, the oppressed wife finds the courage to leave her husband, slamming the door behind her, the echoes of which were heard around the world. In comparison, his Hedda is full of destructive rage that leads her to torment others who come into her circle. She has married the boring Tesman (Kyle Soller), an academic, who is kind, but obviously, makes no attempt to understand Hedda.

She is nasty to Tesman’s aunt and looks down her aristocratic nose at Mrs Elvsted (Sinead Matthews), who has had the courage to get out of a hopeless marriage and work with Lovborg (Chukwudi Iwuji), whom she also loves. The only one who makes her uncomfortable is the swaggering, domineering Judge Brack (Rafe Spall). He is as brutal with her as she is with others—particularly the helpless Lovborg, whose life’s work she callously burns.

Even though today, there is no reason for educated women to stay on in suffocating marriages, there are still women like Hedda, who spill their own unhappiness around. When Brack douses her with a red, blood-like liquid, Hedda looks like the emotional vampire she is; the only one understanding and aiding her is the silent maid, sitting by the side of the stage, dressed in black. Ivo van Hove is a brilliant director and he works wonders with a play that would otherwise seem dated. Right from the stage design to the costumes, everything seems to reflect Hedda’s bleak soul.

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