Review: Hedda Gabler, Royal Lyceum, Edinburgh (Sunday Herald)


Hedda Gabler



Until April 11

Reviewed by Mark Brown

The 2014-15 season has been the best at Edinburgh’s Royal Lyceum for many years. Its admirable strike rate continues with this resounding production of Ibsen’s great tragedy Hedda Gabler.

Directed by Amanda Gaughan (making a superb debut at the Lyceum), boasting a fine cast across the board, and using Richard Eyre’s glass sharp version of the text, this staging proves the paradox that a classic play often speaks most powerfully to our times by being kept in its own (even if the doors of Jean Chan’s set swing open at inopportune moments).

From the very outset of this production, set in a grand house in a late-19th century Scandinavian suburb, one senses the shuddering, restless dissatisfaction of Nicola Daley’s blue-blooded Hedda. Barely containing the derision she feels for her husband, the dreary academic Tesman, this wonderfully nuanced Hedda is not reducible to either recalcitrant aristocrat or enraged feminist.

Nicola Daley (Hedda) and Benny Young (Brack). Photo: Tommy Ga-Ken Wan
Nicola Daley (Hedda) and Benny Young (Brack). Photo: Tommy Ga-Ken Wan

Rather, Daley creates a captivating, beautiful, dangerous and anguished heroine whose destructive (and self-immolating) power lies in the torment of her entrapment by both her class and her sex. Her emotional and erotic instincts (particularly in relation to the brilliant but degenerate writer Lövborg) denied she, in contrast to the great schemers of tragic theatre (from Medea to Lady Macbeth), wreaks havoc on devastating impulse.

Daley has the rare ability to both fill an auditorium with premonitory tension and, as if suddenly drawing the air from the theatre, change the atmosphere in an instant.

In more than a quarter-of-a-century of theatregoing, it has been my good fortune to see such distinguished actresses as Maureen Beattie (Medea), Diana Rigg (Mother Courage), Fiona Shaw (Arkadina) and Harriet Walter (Lady Macbeth) at the top of their respective games. It is no exaggeration whatsoever to say that Daley’s electrifying Hedda belongs in such illustrious company.

This review was originally published in the Sunday Herald on March 29, 2015

© Mark Brown


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