Hedda Gabler is the second of two plays from Greyscale Theatre that form a part of Northern Stage’s Queens of the North series, a season of great female stories and great female storytellers. The first, based on Mary Wolstencroft Shelley’s Frankenstein (review to follow), features the same cast. Hedda Gabler, a recognised classic from Henrik Ibsen, tells the story of a woman who, after living her unmarried life to the full, is unimpressed with the boundaries opposed by her new marital status. Ibsen deliberately left her motives open to interpretation, with conclusions as to her mental state left to the viewer, and this new adaptation adds further intrigue whilst blending the original timescale of the piece with some modern twists.
Created and directed by Greyscale’s Selma Dimitrijevic, Hedda Gabler keeps the corsets and finery of the original, but adds a more modern-looking stage and soundtrack. Dimitrijevic has also introduced a freeze-frame device, in which Hedda stays active whilst the world around her stops. Such a move serves to emphasise the character’s eccentricities and shows a person in a world of their own, adding depth to the character that cannot come through her often repressed dialogue. Although the pace at times feels uneven, Victoria Elliott’s on-the-edge performance as Hedda keeps all enthralled, and from the first line her character treads an exquisite path between trying to appear normal and being ready to explode.
In the context of the Queens of the North, Hedda Gabler makes perfect sense as a woman refusing to accept the life granted her. In a stand-alone play interpretations are more confusing, given this adaptation pushes Hedda’s lack of humility and selfishness to the fore, suggesting her obsession with shaping a man’s destiny stems more from some form of personality disorder rather than being poorly treated by others. An ending in which Gabler’s corpse rises again and leaves the building – defying others’ expectations, including the original writer, yet again – is a happy twist. And without such ambiguity, Ibsen’s play would never have had such lasting impact.