Theatre Review: Hedda Gabler Salisbury Playhouse Passes #TheBechdelTest

The only thing I know is that I don’t know much about theatre. But I do know if I have enjoyed or endured a theatrical experience. I have ignorantly dabbled with playwriting and I am enjoying theatre in many different ways to grow my range of experiences.

I have no experience of Hedda Gabler and when I spoke to my screenwriter mentor he said; “Great play but totally dependent on her – you gotta want to sleep with her.”

Previously, we had been talking about including a reference to Hedda Gabler in a screenplay he was writing and he brought my attention to her early feminist tendencies. I looked it up and basically, to prećis, it’s about a bored housewife who goes nuts. Now that is something to which I can relate.

I was excited to discover that it was being performed at Salisbury Playhouse, orchestrated by the Playhouse director, himself, Gareth Machin. Salisbury Playhouse is a warm, friendly theatre and I love going there. The heart of theatrical art in the South West. Salisbury Playhouse presents Brian Friel’s version of Ibsen’s Hedda Gabler, which premiered at the Gate Theatre, Dublin, in September 2008.

Plot summary:

Hedda Gabler returns, dissatisfied, from a long honeymoon. Bored by her aspiring academic husband, she foresees a life of tedious convention. And so, aided and abetted by her predatory confidante, Judge Brack, she begins to manipulate the fates of those around her to devastating effect.

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Kirsty Bushell plays Hedda in Gareth Machin’s astonishing Salisbury production. Bushell’s Hedda  is driven by a combination of stifling ennui and hysterical frustration into deliberate acts of selfish destruction. But she wasn’t quite nuts enough for me. I wanted Beatrice Dalle in Betty Blue, or the coquettishness of Vivien Leigh, in Gone With The Wind. I wanted her to be hot, evil and mad like Elizabeth Taylor in Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf. I wanted her to switch effortlessly from one persona to another subtly revealing her machiavellian traits only to me, the audience.

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Ben Caplan, was my favourite as the over enthusiastic puppy scholar Tesman who’s so grateful that he managed to bag the General’s daughter, Gabler that he cannot see through her menacing ways

Judge Brack is played by David Bark-Jones, and is charming and seductive. The struggling artist Loevborg is played by Damian Humbly, but he is definitely not hot enough. He was the Johnny Depp of the piece and Humbly didn’t sex it up enough for me. Although his performance was good, I just didn’t fancy him and I wanted to.

There were delightful performances by Kemi-Bo Jacobs as the devoted but annoying Mrs Elvsted (not knowing the plot I secretly hoped Hedda would shoot her), Jane Wymark as pious Aunt Ju Ju and Petra Markham as the abused maid Berta.

James Button’s set was exquisite. The grandeur of extraordinarily high ceilings and doorways, the pale duck egg blue painted walls, the long swishing drapes, the portrait of General Gabler scowling over the proceedings and the divine wood burner in the corner (where did he get those tiles? #covet #covet). There was a real sense of time passing throughout the day and night with the beautiful lighting of Howard Hudson.

It’s worth noting the play is long – first half 85 minutes and the second half 65 minutes.

Hedda Gabler runs in the Main House at Salisbury Playhouse from Thursday 17 March to Saturday 2 April 2016. For more information or to book tickets please contact the Ticket Office on 01722 320333 or visit the Salisbury Playhouse website

Oh yes The Bechdel Test – I nearly forgot:

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Hedda and Mrs Elvstead sit together and discuss how Mrs Elvstead was frightened of Hedda at school. Hedda laughs, remembering that she had threatened to set fire to her hair.


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