Review: Hedda Gabler @ The Lowry, Salford

Lizzy Watts stuns as Hedda Gabler in Patrick Marber’s version of the play at The Lowry in Salford.

Ivo van Hove’s staging sets the National Theatre production in a minimalist apartment, providing a new element to the Henrik Ibsen classic.

The sterile home displaces Hedda immediately as she hangs to the old-fashioned piano, belonging to another life. She despairs over the disillusion of married life and later explains that she felt the need to settle her wild spirit as she was getting older.  

Hedda is trapped within the walls of her apartment, reflecting her lack of escape from the mundane, loveless marriage. The lights are too bright, the colourful flowers bring no joy and she has no desire to connect with new family. Watts portrays the difficult character as a woman who will not be controlled.  

Married life has provided Hedda with an unbearable ennui. It consumes her until the isolation and boredom proves to be her biggest demon.

THEMES: The play combines ideas of misogyny and mental torment

A butler allows visitors in and out of the apartment through an effective intercom system, adding to the contemporary feel of the production. Faces appear on a screen before they are let in, adding to the lifeless feel of the apartment. No one is welcomed lovingly through the door.

Hedda’s guns also hang ominously on the wall throughout the play, as the audience anticipates the outcome.

Sexualised from the outset, Watts lies across her piano in a silk dressing gown. Her husband Tesman (Abhim Galeya) teases his ‘privileged access’ to her body as others long to touch and hold her.

We are led to believe that Hedda has been involved sexually with the entire male cast, even Brack (Adam Best), the predatory judge.

The play combines misogyny and mental torment which leaves Hedda feeling she will never find a purpose in life. The final tipping point is when she realises she will be left under Brack’s control while her husband pursues a new venture.

INTENSE: The production leaves the audience in awe

In her rage, the flowers are shredded and thrown across the stage before Hedda staples a stem to each wall panel. This act appears to personify her stifled existence as she craves to bring life to her surroundings.

Music also plays an integral role in the production, Joni Mitchell’s Blue is repeated throughout as Hedda is consumed by a desire to break free. Jeff Buckley’s Hallelujah accompanies the news of Tesman’s aunt’s death as the rest of the cast board up the windows and the apartment becomes void of natural light.

As Hedda’s mental anguish intensifies, Watts mirrors the exasperation remarkably through her awkward posture and body language. She expresses the claustrophobic experience for women in her intricate movements.

Ivo van Hove’s production undoubtedly encapsulates Ibsen’s preliminary idea that life for Hedda ‘is a farce not worth seeing through to the end’. It leaves the audience in awe of Watts’ beautifully intense performance and equally consumed by her anguish. 

*Hedda Galber is playing at The Lowry in Salford until Saturday, November 4. You can buy tickets HERE.

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