Hedda Gabler, Barbican, London
A cool and too calculating heroine
Friday 29 February 2008
Thomas Ostermeier's sleekly updated production of Hedda Gabler – now visiting the Barbican from Berlin's Schaubühne am Lehniner Platz – exerts a horrible fascination for the two hours of its uninterrupted duration. Hedda and Tesman return from their honeymoon to a hypermodern house with sliding glass walls. It looks more like an airless display cabinet than a home, and feels as if we are being invited to scrutinise specimen creatures rather than identify with fellow human beings.
Ibsen's destructive heroine, who knows that her greatest talent is for boring herself to death, is portrayed by a compellingly creepy Katharina Schüttler. Her Hedda is a gamine, pallid beauty who registers frustration with a sullen, pouting languor and cat-like stillness rather than through fits of sarcastic protest. In the scene where she sends Lovborg (Kay Bartholomäus Schulze) to his suicide, Ostermeier has the character pretend to shoot himself in front of her as a grotesque joke. Her unflinching gaze as he raises the gun to his temples is truly disturbing.
Ostermeier scored an earlier hit with Nora, a contemporary version of A Doll's House in which you felt a desire to shock for shock's sake. This Hedda Gabler is more restrained, though the black wit of its approach can result in absurdities. Lovborg's precious manuscript is now a file in a laptop. Hedda smashes the machine, despite the fact that, in Ostermeier's rejigged account, her husband and Mrs Elvsted are asleep nearby.
The actors deliberately underplay so that we seem to be eavesdropping on a hermetically sealed drama. The effect, though, is to leave key encounters badly underpowered. The insinuating force of Judge Brack fails to make itself felt in Jorg Hartmann's low-key, colourless performance.
The powerful conclusion does not distract from the two main objections to Ostermeier's production – it never persuades us that a contemporary Hedda would be so little in control of her destiny or so dependent on men. The best performances of the role make us feel, with Ibsen, that there's a little of Hedda in all of us. With Schüttler, one is mesmerised by an alien being.
To 1 March (020-7638 4141); 'Artefacts' to 22 March (020-7610 4224)
Arts & Ents blogs
- 1 What happens to your body when you give up sugar?
- 2 Drugs Live cannabis trial: Hash is less harmful than any other drug, expert claims
- 3 Turkish Airlines flight TK 726 crash-lands on Nepal runway in dense fog
- 4 Have sex with your iPad thanks to the new sex toy no-one asked for
- 5 The majority of sex workers enjoy their job - why should we find that surprising?
The Great Comic Relief Bake Off, TV review: Alexa Chung impresses, but Chris Moyles makes Paul Hollywood gag
Drugs Live: Twitter responds to Jon Snow and Jennie Bond smoking cannabis
India's Daughter: BBC Four documentary provokes outrage on Twitter
Fifty Shades of Grey movie shows first sex scene 'after 40 minutes'
Seth Rogan's pot fumes delay hacked Sony boss’s office move
Nearly 100,000 of Britain's poorest children go hungry after parents' benefits are cut
Durham Free School: 'Creationism taught at' free school facing closure
Ukip would cut billions from Scottish budget to fund English tax cuts
End of the licence fee: BBC to back radical overhaul of how it is funded
Ukraine crisis: Top Chinese diplomat backs Putin and says West should 'abandon zero-sum mentality'
Boris Nemtsov shot dead: Outspoken Putin critic who had expressed fears for his life is killed near the Kremlin