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Hedda Gabler

Hedda Gabler


Reading Rep Theatre

HEDDA GABLER at the Reading Rep Theatre


Hedda Gabler

“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:


Dorian | ★★★★ | October 2021


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Hedda Gabler


The Maltings Theatre


Hedda Gabler

The Maltings Theatre

Reviewed – 16th November 2021



“The direction of the ensemble is excellent with characters naturally filling and moving in the space”


OVO presents Ibsen’s classic tragedy from 1890 in a version by Richard Eyre.

The onstage action throughout all four acts takes place in the same set – the living room of Tesman’s house (Set Design by Simon Nicholas). Minimal furniture – a table, chairs, chaise longue, all rather unassuming, is enough to set the scene and the period. A backlit gauze at the rear of the stage allows us to see into the back room of the house and provides the opportunity for some effective and dramatic projection, not overdone. (Lighting Design by Matt Dugee). With the audience sitting closely on three sides, we are brought as witnesses into the heart of the domestic drama.

Before the start of Act One, we get a first glimpse of Hedda as she rises from bed and looks around her new home. It is clear she disdains all she sees except for a white piano which is at odds with the remainder of the dark furniture. A soundtrack of piano music here and in preludes between the Acts (Composer David Podd) foreshadows what is to come. A similar entr’acte at the start of Act Three is enacted by Thea – a near balletic scene, again showing prophetic movements.

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The direction (Director Janet Podd) of the ensemble is excellent with characters naturally filling and moving in the space, never looking harried or hurried. All characters have their strengths and the fluency and pacing of the production will improve with further performances.

Hedda’s husband of six months, George Tesman (Lyle Fulton) with a near-permanent inane grin fumbles and bumbles about and is closer to buffoon than university professor. His nemesis Eijert Løborg (Diljohn Singh) is played in a gentle sweet manner. His final words to Hedda as he uses her maiden name of Gabler rather than Tesman is a rare moment of poignancy. Judge Brack (Marc Ozall), his hair black and brilliantined, is stiff and imperious, a dangerous sort to play with. I would have liked to see his deviousness more overtly from the start, but Hedda must be bored in her marriage indeed if she is willing to entertain notions of “forming a triangle” with this tedious man. Thea Elvsted (Jane Withers) is broken and bowed, close to tears and, with one exception, movingly sotto voce throughout.

The production revolves, as it should, around the moods of Hedda, and Faith Turner is superb: disdainful, condescending, enigmatic and cruel. Hedda wants to play all the men she meets and yet she says she cannot condone infidelity. Neither, it seems, can she abide her husband’s touch. The disastrous touchpaper is lit as soon as Hedda admits, “For once, I want to control a man’s fate.”

Janet Podd writes in her programme note that Hedda has been brought up by her father in boyish ways, learning to ride and shoot, and to be in control of her own destiny. As a woman she is deprived of this until the final moment when she opts to take it back. At the end of Act One, when Ibsen allows his main character to play with a pair of pistols, it is a fair sign that things are not going to end well.



Reviewed by Phillip Money

Photography by Pavel Gonevski


Hedda Gabler

The Maltings Theatre until 27th November


Also reviewed this year at this venue:


Vinegar Tom | ★★★ | October 2021


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