By Sophie Brown, PhD Chemistry
University of Bristol DramaSoc’s winter production retells Henrik Ibsen’s revolutionary play that explores the demise of an unsettlingly tormented female heroine, Hedda Gabler.
With the rise of literary heroines that defy the typical models of female charm, it is quite surprising to rediscover such a character created so far ahead of her time at the end of the 19thcentury.
With a cast led by director Ivana Hladusz, DramaSoc welcomed its audience to a refreshingly contemporary venue of the converted police station, The Island. Indeed, the production team made good use of an intimate space more typically suited to Bristol’s alternative nightlife. With the menacing figures of the three male characters incarcerated in the custody cells before the performance, and Hedda draped despairingly against the fragile polythene curtains that swayed eerily in the breeze of people moving into their seats, the essence of a crime scene was evoked; an arena quite fitting for the dark, tortured morality of one of theatre’s most captivating heroines.
The thoughtfully minimalist and sombre set arrangements offered the audience a relatively blank canvas. A solitary vase of white roses resting precariously on a stepladder, the debris of torn up academic manuscripts underfoot, and the translucent polythene veils of shivering white suspended from the ceiling; the tragic jilted figure of Dickens’ Miss Havisham would not have felt completely out of place. Stage design seemingly took some inspiration from Ivo Van Hove’s recent contemporary interpretation of Hedda Gabler, but still provided a novel reinvention that had its own uniquely sinister style.
With a mere two rows of seating spanning the length of the stage, that initially felt intrusively close to the performance area, but only aided to the unsettling atmosphere of Ibsen’s masterpiece, as well as showcasing the undoubtable skill of the entire cast. All individuals demonstrated a convincing aptitude for characters with exceptionally complicated elements, and delivered a performance of fluidity and substantial acting credibility.
Skye Croft’s interpretation of Hedda’s descent into despair and her alarming appetite for misery was incredibly compelling, with scenes of frenzied hysteria that were intense but not at all overdone. The increasing boredom and dissatisfaction of being a kept woman effortlessly soaked into Hedda’s dialogue delivery: drawling tones and exaggeratedly elongated enunciations that burst into animated and panicked expressions which provided a convincing level of unpredictability that brought Croft’s portrayal to life. There were amusingly playful elements to the character, warming the edges of a generally deeply dislikeable character and making her all the more captivating. The sinister figure of Judge Brack, portrayed by Jake Ritblat, gave a particularly authoritative delivery of perhaps the most villainous male character. The seductive dynamic created between Brack and Hedda was particularly engaging, and developed with unsettling intensity as the reversal of power between the two was witnessed. The ability of Brack to reduce Hedda to a feeble wreck with such hypnotising horror is testament to both performers’ talents. While all cast members took to the limelight with praiseworthy poise and command over their character, there was one figure that was perhaps easier to overlook given her reserved role: the maid, played by Phoebe Averdieck, successfully provided an added layer of unnerving omnipresence as she skulked softly into the background.
All members of the cast must be commended on their stunning portrayals, and were almost faultless in their deliveries; there were a few minor hiccups with lines but these were almost indiscernible and by no means marred the overall performance. While this production is from the efforts of a relatively small team, DramaSoc created a powerfully dynamic and deeply engaging work that does Ibsen’s innovative classic a satisfying amount of justice.
Featured image credit: DramSoc / Julia Pecyna
Have you seen Hedda Gabler yet? What were your thoughts on the performance?