Hedda Tesman, Chichester Minerva Theatre, REVIEW: 'I found it difficult to take my eyes off her'

One of the great female characters in theatre history gets brought into the present in this adaptation of Henrik Ibsen’s play Hedda Gabler.

Friday, 6th September 2019, 12:12 pm
Haydn Gwynne and Anthony Calf in rehearsal for Hedda Tesman, playing at Chichester Minerva Theatre, August 3-September 28, 2019. Picture by Johan Persson.

The plot is largely the same: a dissatisfied wife meddles with the lives of her academic husband and his colleague, a former flame, with tragic consequences.

But instead of a newlywed 20-something, the 2019 Hedda is reimagined as a middle-aged woman estranged from her daughter who set aside her career aspirations for her husband’s – and now, she does not know why. Haydn Gwynne is the titular character, and the Tony Award nominee does a wonderful job at realising the complexity of Hedda.

She is funny and sad, jealous and apathetic, kind and cruel, angry and desperate – but always charismatic; I found it difficult to take my eyes off her.

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One of the main changes of this adaptation was turning Thea from a former classmate to Hedda’s daughter, which made the cruelties inflicted on her by Hedda even more intense.

However, I found this version of Thea to be slightly too obnoxious to feel sympathy for.

For all its dark and shocking moments, it is also a surprisingly funny play; the interactions between a passive-aggressive Hedda and her overbearing aunt-in-law Julie, played by Jacqueline Clarke, were particularly enjoyable; as was the odd well-placed and unexpected c-word from the protagonist.

Live music is also used to great effect. An omnipresent pianist haunts the action, a ghost of what could have been for Hedda had she pursued her musical talent.

For all the artistic licence she uses, writer Cordelia Lynn replicates the essence of the original play’s ending. And in a setting almost 130 years in the future, it works just as well.

Hedda’s actions and motivations have captivated audiences for over a century – and this production looks set to continue that trend.Until September 28.