HEDDA, the most bad-ass Queenslander that you'll ever meet
Even though at its London premier Ibsen received the worst reviews of his career, with many critics condemning it as mean and sordid philosophy, a hideous nightmare of pessimism and insidious nastiness, it is Ibsen's most produced play worldwide and has been reimagined a number of contemporary playwrights, including Melissa Bubnic. In her adaptation, Hedda Gabler (Danielle Cormack) lives in a monstrous, poolside mansion on the Gold Coast with white leather couches, blingy chandeliers and even an inflatable flamingo. Her husband George Tesman (Jason Klarwien) is a middle-class bogan meth dealer, whose mother (Andrea Moor) and aunty (Helen O'Leary) bring him a tray of Bowen mangos and groceries in Coles' reusable bags, who wear activewear and short skirts. But Hedda is sick of playing housewife and not being able to do what she wants to do and sets forward a chain of events which leave a trail of blood on her path...
By tackling this work, both Bubnic and Queensland Theatre have taken on a great risk; adaptations of a work don't always come together in the way that the author intended. Sometimes the audiences feel that the essence of the narrative is lost or that they feel like the characters they love are vanished and replaced by new editions, so to speak, of these characters. I'm not sure what Ibsen is thinking lying in his grave upon seeing his favourite female through bones across the stage but I thought that it was superb.
Directed by Paige Rattray, Hedda is the second play that has called the Bille Brown Theatre a home; only this time, unlike Nearer the Gods, there isn't a kaleidoscope of lights attached the interior of the space. Instead, the stage is covered in white; towering white whiles; white tables and chairs, a barricade between what I interpreted as a deck/patio area and a pool, as well as a glass door leading to what is imagined to the inside of the Gabbler and Tesman's house; a typical Gold Coast-ian mansion. Emma Valente's lighting took up a character of time; the varying shades of orange and purple symbolic of the earth's daily journey around the sun, which was complemented by Kelly Ryall's electronic soundtrack which established the mood and atmosphere of each scene, as well as the mentalities of the characters entering, standing and often, in Hedda's case, dancing to it.
The cast's dedication to their characters is worth mentioning; with Cormack making the stage her fortress which each click of her heels. She's the most well-dressed, cunning and bad-ass anti-hero I have ever seen, who manages to make a holding a gun both sexy and terrifying. Cormack effortlessly transitions between Hedda's sociopathic tendencies to moments of light and humour, which makes us not only question her morality even more but also offers us as a possible argument for liking her character in the first place. Other stand-out performances include Jimi Bani as Ejlert Lovborg who, in my opinion, had the most challenging role to play, switching between moments of light-hearted humour to moments of despair, derangement to raw vulnerability. Lovborg's love interest Thea Elvsted was played by Bridie Carter who, like Cormack, commanded the stage and I couldn't help but feel her kindness, sympathy, naivety and hurt when she got violently attacked by Thea, with its bloody remains coating her face and dripping down onto her chest for the rest of the piece. Without the dynamic between Thea, someone wanting to believe that everything was okay and who saw only the good in everyone and Hedda, an individual whose world is centred around her own happiness, the play would not exist. And so, I thank the actors for the strong rapport that they build between these two characters and through doing so, they reached out to the audience and make them reflect on what was wrong and what was right.
The one inconsistency I felt in the direction and writing, was how the first ten minutes or so of the narrative was spent showcasing the middle-class bogan nature of George and his relatives, but then in the next scene Jason Klarwein as George instantly dropped his bogan characteristics and it left me wondering what the first ten minutes of the show were for... It was the same with the maid (Helen O'Leary) who, like Klarwein seemed to forget about her bogan nature. It was also disappointing that Julia Tesman hardly appeared in the plot, as Andrea Moor played her marvellously.
If you'd like a fun but thought-provoking night at the theatre, then Hedda is the show for you to see.
Rating: 4 stars
Presented by Queensland Theatre
Performed at the Bille Brown Studio
Running until the 8th of December