HEDDA GABLER
Playhouse Theatre, London WC2
Opened 3 September, 1991

From the first creak of the door as Fiona Shaw's electrifying Hedda rushes onstage in a mute, blacked-out prelude until the final bewildered, anti-climactic response to her suicide, this is a fearsomely fine production. The triumphant success of each [director Deborah] Warner-Shaw partnership is becoming predictable, but never dull. Warner takes the first act at an exhilarating lick, suited perfectly to a Hedda played by Shaw as breathlessly ill-at-ease. This Hedda's girlishness informs the part with a hyperenergy quite different from the legions of brooding, possessed Gablers; her self-parodic melodramatic gestures come with a frequency and awkwardness which almost begin to irritate until they become imbued with a real and disquieting passion which lays bare their initial double-bluff.

The Irish dimension furnishes a comic strand that reinforces rather than undermines the ultimate unfathomable tragedy as Hedda, having incited the suicide of her former lover Lovborg and opened herself to sexual blackmail by the too-amiable Judge Brack, finds solace only in her late father's duelling pistol. Jean Kalman's excellent lighting design gives the lie to accusations that dim light must always be gloomy and monotonous. Robert O'Mahoney's resonant, over-repressed Lovborg is the only flagrant weakness in what is otherwise a vista of terrible beauty.

Written for City Limits magazine.

Copyright Ian Shuttleworth; all rights reserved.

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