The intricate subtlety of Henrik Ibsen’s dialogue is possibly what makes him such a monumental figure for modern drama. Any production of one of Henrik Ibsen’s most admired plays, Hedda Gabler, requires a cast capable of illuminating the social and psychological complexities that pervade his dialogue. Unfortunately, Green Door Theatre’s production of Hedda Gabler failed to reveal to the audience the skill of Ibsen’s dialogue, ultimately disallowing it from attaining its full tragic force.
At first the opening scene seemed to step right into the bourgeois lifestyle of the Tesman home, an achievement attained by the conservative aura of Julia Tesman (Stine Revheim Svellingen), with her commendable ease on stage, and the appropriately staged middle-class setting. Nonetheless, the initial naturalness that pervaded this scene was cut short by the appearance of George Tesman (George Terman). His exaggerated mannerisms and stuttering speech were a result of over-acting that prevented the audience from focusing on the dialogue. This weakness was of great consequence to a play so heavily reliant on dialogue to gradually amount to a tragic climax.
The distraction from the dialogue was, however, significantly mollified by the impressive stage presence of Hedda Gabler (Cassandra Bailly). Both Gabler’s alluringness and increasingly solipsistic demeanour were wonderfully captured in the confinement of her setting. Her extreme frustration with all surrounding characters was not simply achieved by boldly exasperated remarks, but rather by the sheer contrast of her character’s presence to all others on stage. Save Judge Brack (Ram Gupta), who had a praiseworthy control of speech and casualness of movement, the rest of the cast, especially when in the vicinity of Gabler, trivialised the importance of their roles by over-theatricalising the nature of their characters. At times the laughing from the audience was testimony to the fact that this overwrought theatricality reduced moments of Ibsen’s play, infused with tragic undertones, to a status of comic superficiality.
Despite this flaw, director Dominic Birch should be commended for his discernment in deciding to open up the stage space into the area of the audience to depict the tension of Gabler’s pointing a pistol at Judge Brack. This directorial sensitivity allowed the interaction between Brack and Gabler to attain a heightened level of psychological perturbation as Gabler stood centre stage, pointing the pistol in the direction of the audience. A similar source of praise was Birch’s desire to have the characters employ to maximum effect the stage setting, only having them remain static in moments of intense one-to-one conservation. This provided the characters with a sense of freedom and naturalness that was essential in preventing the dialogue from becoming completely burdened by its length and nuanced complexity. The simplicity of lighting was another element of the play worth acknowledgement, allowing the audience to focus rather on the taut dialogue and restrictive bourgeois setting to make sense of Gabler’s distressing entrapment.
It was certainly a challenge for both the cast and Birch to ensure that Ibsen’s Hedda Gabbler attained the level of theatrical and psychological sophistication that the play rightly deserves. Shortcomings in the general acting of the play prevented Green Door Theatre’s production from bringing out the full potential of the dialogue, which was the very means of achieving the play’s dramatic refinement. Nonetheless, the possibility to see one of Ibsen’s most fantastic plays and the intriguing character of Hedda Gabbler should be enough reason to enjoy the play.