Shooting Hedda Gabler at Rose Theatre
Re-imaginings do not have to be entirely faithful to the original scripts they are based on. In Nina Segal’s reworking of the Norwegian classic, Ibsen’s material becomes the frame narrative.
The main story is set in a foreboding film studio outside of Oslo where Hedda (Antonia Thomas) arrives to begin shooting Henrik’s (Christian Rubeck) cinematic take on Hedda Gabler, which has no script initially but evolves from insensitively directed improvisations that he makes the actors undertake before creating a script.
The play develops in a similar way to the original, with Thomas’s Hedda having a few parallels with Ibsen’s. She has a past relationship with a man who will play Ejlert (Avi Nash) and it transpires she is pregnant, too. Thomas’s character, though, lacks the control and authority of the 19th-century general’s daughter. Indeed, she is at the mercy of the un-empathetically autocratic director Henrik and finds scant empathy from fellow cast members Thea (Matilda Bailes) and Jørgen (Joshua James).
It is striking that an entirely possible narrative poses more questions of plausibility when performed than providing an uncomfortable insight into the unethical behaviours that occur even in the small-scale productions of the movie industry.
Initially, Hedda seems rightly self-assured as to how she wants the initial stages of the filmmaking process to begin that it seems bizarre that she becomes so easily manipulated by Henrik’s overbearing demands. There is a plausible entrapment caused by the fact that the small-scale nature of the project means that Thea is not only an actress but also the intimacy coach and on-set therapist; however, the revealing of that comes off as parodic rather than tragic, further diminishing the possibility of Hedda to gain as much sympathy as Ibsen’s flawed heroine and, indeed, as a victim of abuse should.
Even when Rubeck barks at the audience that it is an interval, while he pruriently strides to see how Hedda and Ejlert physically rekindle their relationship, the response from a few members is a light-hearted laugh rather than the chill which is surely the likely intent with such a cold-hearted character.
Though earnest in their performances, it feels as if the script, direction – or a combination of both – mean the performances lack the potency to make the permeability between frame and main narrative entirely believable. Ultimately, therefore, it feels that Shooting Hedda Gabler shoots itself in the foot more than hits the mark.
Shooting Hedda Gabler is at Rose Theatre from 29th September until 21st October 2023. For further information or to book visit the theatre’s website here.
Watch the trailer for Shooting Hedda Gabler here: