HEDDA GABLER at the Reading Rep Theatre
“a thrillingly inventive show, with strong and engaging performances from every cast member”
The programme promises an ‘electric’ performance ‘steeped in queer rage exploring how the most famous female character of all time is trapped within a life chosen for her’. This off-putting hyperbole shouldn’t stop you rushing to see this terrific re-imagining of Ibsen’s famous 1891 masterpiece.
Turn-of-the-century Norway has become present day London in Harriet Madeley’s sassy new play which is a co-production with A Girl Called Stephen Theatre, which has as its mission ‘queer/womxn led theatre for Reading and beyond’. The script is sharp and witty with heaps of semi-poetic dialogue that includes a knowing line about White Company bedlinen and another about school mums with ‘puffa coats and keep cups’. In this production there’s also clever use of a pair of microphones that heighten the audience’s appreciation of key passages of dialogue.
The cast of five is directed by Annie Kershaw. She has put together a thrillingly inventive show, with strong and engaging performances from every cast member. Anna Popplewell fizzes with magnificent frustration as Hedda, stuck in a new marriage with an innocent young academic called George. This may be her first stage role, but she has distinguished film and TV credits including the Chronicles of Narnia for Disney and Love in a Cold Climate for the BBC.
Mark Desebrock’s George (Globe on Tour, Beauty and the Beast at NT and many more) is likeably naïve and a perfect foil to Hedda. Ryan Gerald makes George’s publisher Brack a vividly gangling wide-boy. George’s former male colleague and new rival Eilert Lövborg has become Hedda’s lover Isla in this show. She’s played with energy and conviction by Jessica Temple (Peter Pan, National Theatre and roles at Nottingham and Bristol). Natalie Perera strikes just the right note for Thea, Isla’s slightly goofy and foolish lover and co-worker.
Designer Amy Watts has devised a striking set with a deep well almost like a boxing ring at its centre. The simple design enables some impressively creative lighting design by Murong Li. The sound design by Jamie Lu is similarly smart, with some subtle atmospheric sounds that ramp up the tension just when it is needed.
In the thrilling second half, the light-hearted verbal fisticuffs shift up several gears. To escape her trap, Hedda must ‘do something beautiful’. An impressive denouement is achieved at speed and with the shocking impact of the best classical tragedy.
Reviewed on 27th February 2023
by David Woodward
Photography by Harry Elletson
Previously reviewed at this venue: