A Henrik Ibsen play, Hedda Gabler (1890) carries all the trademark Ibsen effects – a hard look at Victorian values, psychological conflicts, and a powerful, "scandalous" female protagonist.
Hedda Gabler is a most fascinating, puzzling heroine. Watch the entire play and you will still not be able to bracket her into a type. Is she completely off her head or devilishly cunning? Is she to be condemned for her pettiness and jealousies, or to be pitied for being a victim of nineteenth century social norms?
Fiend or not, Hedda is a character hard to empathize with. Just Theatre’s interpretation of Hedda puts the spotlight on her negatives – she is cruel, selfish, spoilt and dangerous. Other people in the play aren’t exactly laden with admirable qualities either. Tesman is foolish, Judge Brack opportunistic, Løvborg an alcoholic, Thea too weak. The play does not give us a single character to wholeheartedly root for, yet the plot is riveting. It keeps us hooked for we cannot predict, using conventional (or as Hedda would say – ‘boring’) ways of thinking, what these weirdly wired people would do in the circumstances. We watch on and are often perplexed by their choices.
A play with characters so complex requires top-notch performances, and the cast delivers. Sheeba Chaddha as Hedda Gabler is a treat to watch. In every role that I see her, she gives the impression that that’s how she is, it’s hard to imagine her as anything or anyone else. She can play a Rama Sharma (Delhi-6) and a Hedda Gabler with equal ease.
Interestingly, the actors did not use the green room in this play. They had chalked out the active area of the stage, which they entered and left when their part came and sat in the background at the other times. They shifted the props around themselves and even changed costumes on stage. They managed this without causing distraction or delays, which is impressive, but I can’t figure what advantage they got out of it. Maybe the play is structured so that it can work just the same at venues that lack green room facilities?
I also felt that the actors were too distant from the audience – they stood away from the front of the stage, and they had their backs to us too much. That irked.
The play ran for a 1/2-hour longer than its promised time of 2 hours. There was a short break in between, which caused a bit of comic confusion. The break had not been announced beforehand. Given the bizarre nature of the play we wondered if this was Intermission or The End. Doubtful faces around confirmed that we were not alone in thinking this way. The people sitting in the row ahead walked out during the break, not to return. Hard to tell but it’s possible they assumed the play was over.
Hedda Gabler is not for everyone. I watched it in a largish group, and our opinions did not coincide. Some of us loved it, some found it tedious. If are looking for light comedy, this is not that play. If irony suits your taste and you are willing to invest thought and patience into your play-watching, then I recommend Hedda Gabler unreservedly.