The National Theatre movies of plays are not quite as popular as the ballet and opera movies, but they are a marvellous opportunity to see works we wouldn’t usually see in South Africa.
Hedda Gabler is an Ibsen play, first produced way back in the nineteeth century. This version has been updated by Patrick Marber, and directed by Ivo van Hove as a twenty-first century work. It is interesting that the characters are so plausible today. As I don’t know the original, I’m not sure how much of the contemporary feel is Ibsen and how much is due to the rewrite by Patrick Marber, but I’m assuming that the characters are pretty much the way Ibsen wrote them. However, the door has video details, but the characters don’t have mobile phones. And the photo album is not digital. Weird.
Ruth Wilson portrays Hedda Gabler on stage. Much has been said about Ibsen naming the play and the character with her maiden name to emphasise an aristocratic, if somewhat inefficient military, heritage which wasn’t apparent in the movie. However much of an anomaly it was in the nineteeth century it is less so now. Historically it would have created a disproportionate power between the husband and wife, which might have been underscored by their different stations. Failing to draw on the distinct class differences which may have existed in the original served simply to highlight the unsuitability of the couple to one another in terms of their interests – a fact which leads to a marriage so meaningless that neither party is convinced of its success.
I think it is important to understand the history of the “Women’s Liberation Movement” in dispensing with the 19th century daring of their characters. These women, both Mrs Elvsted (Sinead Matthews) and Hedda Gabler, would have been startling characters, the former for her progressiveness, the latter for the insanity lurking within.
Hedda’s young American academic husband is played by Kyle Soller. I’m not sure how he expected to be made a professor so young – but there one has it. Another character who may be too young for the role is Rafe Spall playing Judge Brack and Chukwudi Iwuji as Lovborg – a contemporary of Tesman. An oddity in the play is the maid, Berte, played by Eva Magyar, and who is on the stage throughout, a silent witness to everything.
Designed by Jan Versweyveld the set is minimalistic and often harsh. Music runs throughout, often confusingly.
All round this was an interesting movie and I enjoyed it. It is good to see a few well known thespians in the audience at the Cinema Nouveau. The enrichment of those who chose to view these colonialist art forms is immense and I am grateful to those who bring these movies to our screens.