Acclaimed Belgian director Ivo van Hove, who captivated audiences with his stunning revival of A View From The Bridge at the Young Vic last year, has done it again. This time making his debut at the National Theatre with a new version of Ibsen’s Hedda Gabler.
Written by Patrick Marber it is a mesmerising production, and stars Ruth Wilson in the title role, a performance that is achingly brilliant.
She sits right in the centre of the stage with her back to the audience sprawled over and playing on a piano. It sets the tone immediately - this is a woman who has practically given up on everything and doesn’t know what to do with herself.
The set is a cavernous sitting room that could do with a lick of paint. It is sparse, with merely the piano, a couple of sofas and initially rows of tubs of flowers - rather like those seen in a florist.
And throughout Berte the maid sits quietly at the side as though she is waiting for something to happen.
Patrick Marber has updated Ibsen’s original, making it feel very modern. And refreshingly instead of portraying Hedda’s academic husband Tesman as an old fuddy duddy, he’s the same age, quirky and eccentric for sure, but in American Kyle Soller, he’s also at times a bit Tiggerish, bouncy, energetic and excited - though clearly not in a way that does anything but irritate his wife.
She in turn is exasperated at her turn of circumstance - bored to death, desperate for some excitement and picking away at those who she comes into contact with just to get some reaction and for something to do - whether it’s Brack the judge, her former lover Lovborg, who now teetotal, she encourages back on the sauce, or her old schoolfriend Mrs Elvsted who is now in love with Lovborg.
When she’s on her own, she paces about the room, full of rage and despair, fiddling with the blinds at the window or hurling tubs of flowers all over the stage, some winging their way into the front rows of the audience, and then stapling the flowers to the walls. And in between scenes we hear the haunting song of Joni Mitchell’s Blue playing in the background.
Throughout the performance we almost don’t know what she’s going to do next - she’s volatile and unpredictable and you almost don’t want to look.
The end when it comes is pretty horrific not least the scene in which she is destroyed and humiliated by Rafe Spall’s evil and calculating Brack, in my view unnecessary.
However despite this, it is a fabulous and utterly gripping production with an exceptionally strong cast.
Hedda Gabler is on at the National Theatre until Tuesday, March 21. Tickets from £15. Visit www.nationaltheatre.org. uk for full listings.