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.
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
The Maltings Theatre until 27th November
Also reviewed this year at this venue:
Bread & Roses Theatre
Reviewed – 18th September 2020
“Rooney has great charisma and is clearly a born entertainer”
Big Girl is a one woman show written, directed, and delivered by the twenty-three-year-old Emily J Rooney. Produced by Ryan Wilce and Luke Mosely, Big Girl fuses stand-up comedy and spoken word to chronicle Rooney’s experience growing up as a fat, queer, working-class woman from Essex. Amusing anecdotes abound, Rooney unashamedly talks about her embarrassing and naïve past as she works towards self-acceptance with admirable candour.
Rooney establishes a rapport with the audience immediately. Before the show begins, Rooney greets them as they enter the door while she casually drinks tea and enjoys a biscuit. She says, in pre-Covid times, the audience would have been welcome to a biscuit too. Rooney has everyone captivated throughout her performance, her exuberant personality a joy to watch on stage.
She begins the show talking about her weight, specifically, when she realised that she was fat. Rooney then speaks about learning to love her body, and her desire to see a world that is free of the notion that skinny is better. In the show’s next section, Rooney explores her realisation of her position in the class hierarchy after going to university, before rounding off the show with a brief look at her queerness. Each new theme is introduced via short spoken word pieces, all of which are beautifully written though jarringly different in tone from the rest of the performance.
Rooney explores some interesting topics during her show but unfortunately many stories trail off and are left unresolved, the meaning that the audience is meant to take away, unclear. For example, the section on body positivity is suddenly interrupted by a discussion on Essex sub-culture, which would fit far more naturally into her next section on class. Her discussion on her weight and physical appearance is overall pretty brief, and her positive relationship with her size a sudden reality rather than a journey the audience sees unfold. The final section – apparently focusing on her sexuality – also has little direction, and her monologue here only related to her queerness by the references to her girlfriend.
Rooney does draw links between her class, queerness, and fatness through her experience of these culminating in her overwhelming desire to make sure people feel comfortable. However, so much more could be explored. For example, the intersection between class and fatness, and the stigma that is attached to this. Similarly, the complicated relationship between queerness and fatness and its association with butch culture, opposite to the traditionally feminine. More discussion on how her identities interplay and feed into one another would certainly be welcome.
The Bread & Roses Theatre in Clapham is a small space even during normal times, and, due to social distancing, this has been further restricted to a capacity of around 20 people. This works well to create an intimate relationship between Rooney and the audience and is well-suited for the casual delivery of her stories. The stage is on a raised platform and empty apart from a small table on the left-hand side for refreshments. No props are used, except a printed news report about BMI that she pulled from her bra and quickly discarded. The lighting is simple, only varying when dimmed and making a reddish hue during the spoken word.
Emily J Rooney has great charisma and is clearly a born entertainer. However, some more nuanced discussion on the intersection between her key themes – class, queerness and fatness – would elevate Big Girl to a new level.
Reviewed by Flora Doble
Main photo by Poppy Marriott
Bread & Roses Theatre until 19th September
Last ten shows reviewed at this venue: