The Muizenberg Dramatic Society has taken a risk in presenting Henrik Ibsen's classic drama Hedda Gabler. Richard Higgs directs a dedicated cast in this deeply thoughtful production – but it is not everyone's cup of tea. I felt especially in the long act one that in the direction the script had been so loaded with meaning, that it became heavy and the audience had to work very hard to follow. Act two was shorter, contained more action and was easier to digest.
The play is set in the villa of Jorgen Tesman and his wife Hedda, née Gabler. Just returned from a five-month honeymoon, Hedda is bored by her academic husband and seeks to entertain herself by manipulating people in her immediate circle. She's cold and calculating, a foil to the oily judge Brack.
Tamara Richards takes the role of Hedda, one of the first modern woman roles in Western theatre. She speaks and moves well. Her dead and often narrowed eyes convey her narcissistic lack of emotion. Director Richard Higgs admirably took over the role of Tesman at very short notice and excelled in the part. He irritated and evoked sympathy at the same time.
Philippe Pringiers, as Brack, had a strong stage presence. His continental background added a certain frisson to his successful interpretation of the dastardly judge.
Kelly Kowalski was Mrs. Taya Elvsted, deeply in love with historian Lovborg and tormented by fear of being found out in this adulterous affair – and of him slipping back into alcoholism. Her eyes were pools of despair.
Luke Brown, as Lovborg, portrayed a man of inherent sex appeal and academic brilliance, yet with a flawed centre.
In smaller roles Pilar Pringiers was warm and fussy as aunt Julle. She however needs to use more volume. Jana Botha's maid Berte was a nice cameo in which she sustained an eastern European accent. The two silent workmen, CJ Opperman and Gareth Steward, seemed to be metaphorically papering over the cracks within society. Bravo on handling a long, precarious ladder.
Other symbolism which intrigued included the perspex furniture and empty plastic sleeves on the historical treatise. This seemed to imply, ironically, the idea of transparency. The mixture of Edwardian dress (aunt Julle) and modern gear seem to point to the continuing possibility of human psychological woundedness. The music too was mixed – a modern ballad, an adapted Grieg melody and a well-known piano piece by Albéniz.
Hedda Gabler is a many-layered play and it requires the audience to concentrate. No sitting back and letting it just flow over one. Hedda Gabler by Henrik Ibsen runs at the Masque Theatre, Muizenberg. Book through Masque Theatre Bookings.