Updated: Mar 4, 2020
“Hedda Gabler” by Henrik Ibsen is one of my favourite plays, so when I found out that the Lowry were revamping the play as “Hedda Tesman”, adapted by Cordelia Lynn, I knew I had to go and watch it (and Paula booked us tickets on the front row!). The story was very different to Ibsen’s original tale, but remained true to the text, with certain sections being lifted straight from the original script.
The play starred Haydn Gwynne in the title role, and what a joy it was to watch her onstage. I have seen Gwynne perform before with the RSC, and so was already aware of her talent, but this was something else entirely. She perfectly captured Hedda’s erratic and selfish nature, whilst also giving her a tender side that made you feel quite sorry for her in the end.
For those that don’t know the story, Hedda is a woman in need of some excitement – she is married to George ‘Boring’ Tesman (Anthony Calf) and finds herself struggling for a sense of purpose, with nothing to strive for. Usually, Hedda is portrayed as a young woman, newly wed, and struggling to adapt to the stereotypical “housewife” role. This version of the play saw Hedda portrayed as an older woman, who has spent her life supporting her husband, a researcher at a university. Whilst her husband goes out to dinner parties and meets other university professors, she remains at home, trying her best to make amends with her daughter Thea (Natalie Simpson).
This is an interesting adjustment from the original. In the original piece, Thea is Hedda’s childhood friend, who she bullied and cannot stand to see thriving. In Lynn’s rewrite, Thea is Hedda’s daughter, neglected as a child, and now collaborating alongside a PhD student, Elijah (a character written to replace Ibsen’s Lovborg, played by Irfan Shamji). Together, they plan to publish a book – but this notion is swiftly ruined by Hedda, who, it becomes clear, has been involved with Elijah in the past. The mother-daughter relationship between Hedda and Thea allows for some interesting themes to come to light in this adaptation – most interesting of all is the relationship between Hedda and her deceased father, General Gabler, which is explored in an additional monologue (not included in the original), excellently delivered with raw emotion by Gwynne.
Completing the cast were Rebecca Oldfield as Bertha, the cleaner (a role heavily expanded on from Ibsen’s original – an excellent choice as well, as she was the outsider that really helped the audience figure out the Tesman’s complicated family dynamic), Jacqueline Clarke as Aunty Julie (I think we all have an Aunty a bit like Julie!) and Jonathan Hyde as the excellent Judge Brack, a character who really brought the play to life whenever he was on the stage.
Overall, I would thoroughly recommend this play for anyone who enjoys tense, well-crafted drama, regardless of whether you are familiar with the original work or not.
“Hedda Tesman”, directed by Holly Race Roughan, plays at the Lowry Theatre in Manchester until 19th October.