Hedda Tesman is a reimagining of Henrik Ibsen’s iconic nineteenth-century play, Hedda Gabler. The original play is often used as a key example of naturalism and is known for its complicated female lead.
Penned by Cordelia Lynn, this adaptation places the action in the present-day, reimagines Hedda and George as far older, and, instead, casts Thea as their daughter and Loevborg as George’s former student, Elijah.
In all the advertising I saw, Hedda Tesman was championed as a radical new version of the show. From much of what I heard, I was under the impression that this was a version that asks: “What would happen if Hedda didn’t shoot herself at the end?” (It’s not a spoiler; it’s an iconic scene in the original play).
I was greatly disappointed as, ultimately, this was the same plot as the original play but with modernised language. Making Hedda older and Thea her daughter may seem like big changes but they did little to alter the narrative. The only difference was a short scene after the usual ending. This scene took place between Thea (Natalie Simpson) and Bertha (Rebecca Oldfield), once more, added nothing.
Despite all of this, the acting was fantastic. Haydn Gwynne (nominated for a BAFTA TV Award and four Olivier Awards) played the titular role, and Hedda seemed the part she was born to play. She perfectly displayed Hedda’s brilliant sarcasm and her disdain for everything. And it was, of course, a delight to finally hear Hedda Gabler swear!
Similarly, Oldfield as Bertha, the cleaner, brought a light-hearted touch to the otherwise solemn play. She punctuated tense moments with her casual, comic conversation.
The thrust stage configuration was particularly effective because we, as the audience, could see what the characters could not. On the news when Elijah shot himself, Hedda was in the foreground with her back to the other characters; while they all panicked, we watched her smile.
One particularly poignant moment was when George declared his love for Hedda. Throughout the play, there was little intimacy between them, and at this moment, they made every effort not to face each other and stood a great distance apart. This scene, showing a crumbling marriage, was perfectly directed.
What I liked most in the play was the sliver of light that shone on the eyes of a painting of Hedda’s father. He was a constant presence in her life, even posthumously, watching all the action onstage and controlling it.
I believe this could have been a good production if it was advertised as what it is: a modern adaptation of Hedda Gabler, which would have blown away the thespians who came to see the show.
Hedda Tesman is playing at The Lowry until 19th October.