Two days and disaster in 21st century Ibsen reworking at Chichester Festival Theatre

Jonathan Hyde - Photo Johan Persson
Jonathan Hyde - Photo Johan Persson

Cordelia Lynn’s Hedda Tesman breathes new life into Ibsen’s Hedda Gabler in Chichester’s Minerva’s Theatre until September 28.

A doting husband. A troubled writer. A loaded gun. It’s 2019 and Hedda Tesman returns to a life she can’t seem to escape.

Jonathan Hyde, who plays Hedda’s and her husband George’s friend and near neighbour, is looking forward to something rather special.

“It is four acts and an epilogue and there is an awful lot of strong information that is delivered quite a lot of the time. It is packed with incident, and there are huge narrative threads which combine to create the result at the end…

“It is a really, really good piece. I have got a lot of faith in it. A lot of the comedic stuff is very, very funny, and there is a lot of farce, just as there is in real life, and all that is integrated into the realism of the piece. I think the play’s mix of heavy-duty drama and light-weight silliness is very well-judged.”

It is the same characters as the original Ibsen, but certainly not a sequel (“When Hedda blows her brains out in the original, there is very little scope for a sequel!): “But the characters are 20 or 30 years older now, and instead of having the best friend, there is now a daughter, and I think the mother-daughter-father relationship adds so much interest and complexity to the emotions that run through the play… and also I think the whole thing takes a little of the Nordic gloom out of the piece. We will just have to see how it comes out in the wash, but all the signs are good.”

“(Playwright) Cordelia (Lynn) has remained faithful to the original with this central idea of this woman (played by Haydn Gwynne) who is desperately frustrated with her own life, who has never really had her own life, who has never had the means to pursue her own values.

“She is a pressure cooker. She is someone clearly wanting to explode she is so frustrated. We see that with gun violence in the US which seems to be to a large measure from the appalling influence from the top, but also a huge amount to do with deprivation, with people being ignorant and frustrated.”

Hedda’s problem is that she is deeply frustrated and intelligent: “A big part of her frustration is her intelligence, her awareness of quality, her awareness of value.

“We have set it just outside Southampton. Her husband has just come back from Boston where he has been very successful. His recent book was a big success and that has moved him into a different league. They have come back to his old university to take up a professorship, and so Hedda is now is this crumbling old house in the middle of nowhere. People at university don’t earn a fortune. They won’t be rolling in it anytime soon… and she feels like there is a large steel door closing.

“I am a family friend. I am a judge, a circuit judge who hears a lot of cases at Winchester Crown Court. And it just happens that George has bought this house several fields away from my rather nice Jacobean mansion. There is a rekindling of old friendships. We have been in touch over the two years they have been away, thanks to Skype and those sorts of things. But now they are back and I am the pal and neighbour…

“The play takes place over two days. It is a remarkably short space of time. It is today and tomorrow and that is it. It all happens over this crazy weekend…”

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