Hedda Gabler: Royal Lyceum Theatre, Edinburgh – a modern Play for Today, 1891 and in 2015
As the audience enters the theatre, Hedda (Nicola Daley) is on stage, resting on the sofa. During this silent “prologue”, time to observe the drawing room of the Tesman’s new matrimonial home.
The setting is Christiania, Norway, 1890. High ceiling, soft grey décor, French windows, white muslin curtains, piano, bookshelves, vases of flowers; a glass partition with two doors leads out to the hallway beyond.
Hedda is the daughter of the late General Gabler, whose portrait is proudly displayed. As the play begins, she has just returned from honeymoon with her husband, George Tesman, an academic.
Arriving to welcome the happy couple is George’s Aunt JuJu (Juliana), who calls her nephew Georgie, as if still a boy. As he talks excitedly about his work, Hedda slips silently into the room. Dressed in a cream silk gown under a plum frock coat. with her dark hair cut in a bob, she exudes the New Woman style of beauty and fashion.
“ How kind of you to visit so early”, she greets their guest with the stress on the word early, not on kind. Her sardonic tone of voice is partly disguised by her practiced air of upper class charm. Hedda looks disdainfully at her husband when he explains that Juliana will visit every day. She refuses to call her Aunt JuJu and later throws a gift of flowers out the window.
Lewis Hart portrays the foppish Tesman in sharply tailored tail-coat, cheerfully unaware of his wife’s simmering frustration, as the seriously bookish writer focuses his mind on a potential professorship.
This version of the play was written by former NT artistic director, Richard Eyre. Apparently the idea came to him at the dentist, when he picked up a copy of Hello featuring an interview “with a rich, posh young woman who was celebrated for being celebrated”. She confessed, without irony, to “having a great talent for boredom” to which Eyre’s response was “Hedda Gabler lives!”.
The dialogue is fresh, modern with a sharp wit bringing out some surprising comedic moments. Hedda’s endless flow of cutting remarks also emphasise the dark humour behind the ultimately tragic narrative.
The next visitor is local pillar of society, Judge Brack with whom Hedda delights, flirtatiously, in relating their travel tales; a dismal time, “meeting no-one of one’s class” and that she had been “bored, bored, bored. …there’s only one thing I have a vocation for – boring myself to death.”
This six month tour of Europe was clearly more of a research trip rather than romantic holiday.
Back in town is her former beau, Ejlert Loevborg, a brilliant writer and Tesman’s rival for academic success. Hedda’s old school friend, Thea, has bravely left a dull marriage to be with Loevborg as a research assistant. Now with cocktail soirees and literary conversations, life may now become more interesting…..
Like a petulant child wanting to get her own way, Hedda starts to play manipulative, seductive games within this social circle – perhaps simply to find purpose in her empty life.
Unfortunately Jack Tarlton’s portrayal of Loevborg is rather over-acted as a tough-talking rebel without a cause, set on self destruction. And Judge Brack, a high-ranking gentleman, is given a curious, lackadaisical performance by Benny Young, with an accent as if impersonating Billy Connolly.
But centre stage for much of the action, Nicola Daley is cool, calculating and beautifully bewitching. Poised perfectly, she has a quiet steely-eyed demeanor, often tossing a haughty look, reminiscent of Lady Mary in Downton Abbey; Daley’s slender frame carries the contemporary-styled Victorian costumes like a fashion model. Think Stella Tennant.
Whether through jealousy, selfishness, a cruel streak or psychotic disorder, as the proud daughter of the aristocratic General Gabler, (now the proud possessor of his pistols), she has learnt to be in control and exert power over others.
Directed with insight and clarity by Amanda Gaughan, meticilous movement, gestures and choreographed scenes all add to the shifting emotional atmosphere of Ibsen’s intimate domestic drama.
What is so inspirational about this artistically-conceived production is Jean Chan’s fabulously creative set and costume design, symbolically reflecting the chilling, thrilling mood and manner of Ms Gabler, the Ice Queen.
Perhaps Jean Chan could create a Hedda inspired designer Collection for A/W 2015!
Royal Lyceum Theatre
20 March – 11 April, 2015
Davy Macdonald – a dramatic artist with a story to tell: Gothic Edinburgh at Dundas Street Gallery
Davy Macdonald is a remarkable, original artist specialising in portraiture, who has been exhibiting regular shows in Edinburgh and London since 2009. The Dundas Street Gallery is again the venue for his latest collection of work entitled Gothic Edinburgh.
“Edinburgh, the most Gothic city outside of Transylvania” – Lonely Planet Guide
Macdonald does not simply create figurative works, a portrait on the canvas. Over the years he has researched and developed historic or cultural backgrounds for his Heritage Series – paintings which tell a story from Scotland’s past.
Fascinated by the Medieval architecture of Edinburgh’s Old Town and the ghosts still haunting the cobbled closes, these are dark and dramatic scenes. Women, half hidden behind black cloaks are captured lurking in shadowy candlelight, outside churches and ancient wooden doors.
These are moody, menacing images which illustrate only too well Edinburgh’s legendary ghoulish past of body snatchers, preserving its sense of place which inspired Mary Shelley to create Frankenstein. No wonder the nightly Ghost Tours do a roaring trade year round.!
As well as Gothic Edinburgh, there’s also the opportunity to view a selection of works still available from previous shows. The Heritage series depicting the Harris Tweed workers are charming portraits of women against the scenic beauty of the Western Isles.
“ My vision, using Island girls as models, period costume & artefacts and awe-inspiring locations in the Western Isles, was to recreate and capture the processes that were required to produce Harris Tweed in the Outer Hebrides, some of which are gradually being forgotten.” Davy Macdonald.
You can almost feel the sun on their faces and see the movement of their hands waulking the wool in time to the musical rhythm of their songs.
Here too are a few portraits from the series, Herring Lassies, the iconic fisherwomen who worked in the port at Newhaven, with their nets, baskets and barrels of fresh and salted fish:
“The backdrop for these paintings is Newhaven Harbour in Edinburgh. The idea was to recreate and capture the spirit and camaraderie of the Herring Lassies. Thousands of girls from the Scottish Highlands and islands worked in the Herring industry. They always worked in a tight knit crew of three.“
Fast forward to the 1920s and a time of elegance and glamour in his Deco Dames – young flirty flapper girls in their pearls enjoying the decadent champagne lifestyle and party fun.
This wide-ranging exhibition not only presents Davy Macdonald’s latest work but is also a fine retrospective to highlight the excellent Heritage series of recent years.
A portfolio of well priced Limited Edition prints are also for sale. And if that is not enough choice, private commissions are accepted for individual portraits. A perfect birthday or anniversary present for friends and family to treasure.!
This Gothic Edinburgh Exhibition was kindly sponsored by Ondine (Seafood) Restaurant, George IV Bridge, Edinburgh where a small selection of Davy Macdonald’s artwork is on show.
Dundas Street Gallery, 6 Dundas Street, Edinburgh EH3 6HZ.
Exhibition dates – 21 – 28 March, 2015. 10am – 6pm.
For more information:
Davy Macdonald: http://www.dmacart.com
Ondine Restaurant – http://www.ondinerestaurant.co.uk
The Royal Lyceum, Edinburgh stages Ibsen’s play, Hedda Gabler, the voice of the 19th century New Woman: a preview
A new adaptation of the modern classic, Hedda Gabler has opened at the Royal Lyceum Theatre, Edinburgh for a short run, 20 March to 11 April.
Directed by Amanda Gaughan, this is her first show as Associate Artist with the company. Last year she worked with Laurie Sansom on the successful NTS trilogy, The James Plays staged at the Edinburgh International Festival and the NT, London.
The 19th century Norwegian poet and playwright, Henrik Ibsen became, perhaps unwittingly, a forward-thinking Feminist, pursuing the rights for equality in a series of realistic social dramas. Set in small town conservative communities, he highlighted the private lives of women within family relationships and wider patriarchal society.
In A Doll’s House, his brave heroine Nora struggles against convention to break free from the constraints of her marriage and motherhood, a sensational subject to be dramatised at the time. Developing the theme further in Hedda Gabler (1890), he observes what he sees as the inevitable violation of a woman’s personality under the control of a husband.
It is thanks to the Scottish theatre critic, William Archer * who first introduced Ibsen’s plays to the British theatre. In his English translation of Hedda Gabler, (1891), he quotes from a letter by Ibsen on the creation of Hedda, a modern woman of independent mind.
“The title of the play is Hedda Gabler. My intention in giving it this name was to indicate that Hedda, as a personality, is to be regarded rather as her father’s daughter than as her husband’s wife. What I principally wanted to do was to depict human beings, human emotions, and human destinies, upon a groundwork of the social conditions of the present day.”
Hedda is the daughter of the wealthy, aristocratic General Gabler who enjoyed a privileged childhood. As the play begins, she has just returned from her honeymoon with her husband, Jürgen Tesman, an academic and writer. Hedda is an intelligent, somewhat unpredictable young woman. who is not afraid to manipulate her husband and friends in the pursuit of her own personal ambitions and beliefs.
Amanda Gaughan first worked on the play while studying at the Royal Scottish Conservatoire in 2007, and is fascinated by Ibsen’s feisty character:
“Hedda is considered to be one of the greatest female roles in theatre as she attempts to exert control and influence in a male dominated world which ultimately leads to the destruction of everyone and everything around her. We have real people who exist within a domestic situation and over the course of the 36 hours of the play struggle to deal with life and death situations.”
This new production retains the original period setting, 1890s in Christiania, Norway, adapted with a contemporary text by Richard Eyre. Nicola Daley plays the title role with Lewis Hart as Tesman, Jade Willams as Thea, Jack Tarlton as Loevberg and Benny Young as Judge Brack in the cast.
Hedda Gabler was written as an astute, intimate portrait of the social mores and manners of marriage at the time of women’s fight for emancipation – the New Woman. Given the recurring equality issues on women’s place at work and at home, Ibsen’s powerful punch of a play is as contemporary today as it was viewed by audiences in 1890. Timely and topical for 125 years.
“Oh courage…oh yes! If only one had that…Then life might be liveable, in spite of everything” Hedda Gabler
Hedda Gabler runs at the Royal Lyceum Theatre, Edinburgh, 20 March -1 April, 2015.
Note: William Archer was born in Perth in 1856 and after studying at Edinburgh University, became a leader-writer on the Edinburgh Evening News. He moved to London as dramatic critic of the London Figaro and later of the World, a prominent literary figure and lifelong friend of George Bernard Shaw. He was the first English language translator and an entrepreneurial theatre producer of Ibsen’s plays in the 1880s – 1890s.
A Streetcar named Desire: an electric storm of a dance-drama by Scottish Ballet
“A Streetcar Named Desire is just incredible, like watching a film, musical, play and ballet all at once!”
So commented a theatre-goer after seeing the premiere by Scottish Ballet in 2012. The production has wowed audiences around the UK and in the USA, and received 5 star critical reviews and major choreography and dance awards.
A Streetcar Named Desire, the Pulitzer Prize winning 1947 play by Tennessee Williams, ran on Broadway for two years before opening in London starring Vivien Leigh as the femme fatale, Blanche DuBois. Leigh won an Oscar for the role, in the 1951 movie co-starring Marlon Brando as Stanley.
As an intimate portrait of women’s lives and loves in post-war American society, it has since inspired other directors and musicians: in 1952 a Montreal ballet production featured the original film soundtrack by Alex North and in 1995 Andre Previn composed a score for San Francisco.Opera.
No other play by Williams rivaled Streetcar for its intensity, insight or impact. As he himself admitted, it embodied “everything I had to say.”
The perfect dramatic narrative for Scottish Ballet. Director, Nancy Meckler had never worked with dancers before, but specialises in theatre classics, (Shakespeare, Shaw, Albee and Shepherd et. al), collaborating with Colombo-Belgian choreographer Annabelle Lopez Ochoa and the composer Peter Salem, renowned for theatre, dance, TV and film scores. Adapting the play into dance movement, mime and music, it was important to ensure clarity of plot and characterisation. Hence, the opening scenes set in the mid 1930s show the wealthy family life of Blanche DuBois and her younger sister Stella.
This neat series of vignettes are elegantly dramatised: Belle Reve, the grand Plantation house is the backdrop for Blanche and Alan’s wedding with lively dancing to a country music beat and foot-tapping Irish jigs.
As Blanche, the slender, graceful Eve Mutso is dressed in a virginal-white lacy frock, her blonde hair chignon-style. Grace Kelly to a T. A glamorous socialite, she clings possessively to Alan, as the party-goers join in a free-spirited polka amidst a colourful display of purple and red hats and gowns.
But soon, bereavements, financial problems and personal tragedy completely destroy Blanche’s dream of a happy marriage which she has long romanticised. Now a tragic, penniless widow, she has lost everything of worth, her self-esteem in tatters.
Like women of her generation, she relies on men, their care, embrace, love, for emotional strength; it’s as if she cannot breathe without sexual contact and depends on “the comfort of strangers”. With a thin veneer of vulnerability, Mutso captures this solitary, lost soul of a social butterfly, perfectly.
Stella now lives in New Orleans married to Stanley Kowalski, a bit of a rough diamond, but she has fallen for his macho charm. With the clanging of streetcar-tram bells, the scene shifts to a seedy downtown nightclub with the raunchy, racy sound of jazz. Escaping to find a new life, Blanche arrives at the Kowalski’s cramped apartment with a large suitcase of glamorous clothes. Stanley (Erik Cavallari), casually dressed in jeans and vest, portrays a bullying, bullish and chauvinistic attitude towards women, even to his wife Stella.
He is clearly not fooled by Blanche’s frail femininity and openly derides her social snobbery and flighty, promiscuous behaviour. Their personalities clash head on. Her only crutch is strong drink, hiding bottles amongst her clothes, taking a regular swig to calm her nerves.
The superlative bluesy score drives the menacing mood along in period style. The Ella/Frankie classic, “It’s Only a Paper Moon” is played on the radio as Stella dances seductively with Stanley’s friend, Mitch.
“Say, it’s only a paper moon
Sailing over a cardboard sea
But it wouldn’t be make-believe
If you believed in me …”
Meanwhile the intensity of Stanley and Stella’s relationship is observed in a wildly erotic duet; beautifully choreographed and precisely partnered, the tiny, delicate figure of Sophie Martin is like a rag doll in her husband’s arms, dominating and demanding in his physical desire.
Lighting is subtle yet extremely effective, denoting both the steamy heat and the atmosphere of the Kowalski’s claustrophobic apartment where bare bulbs cast shifting shadows. Swift set changes move the action along with minimal staging.
The central focal point in “A Streetcar Named Desire” is Blanche as we follow her personal journey from carefree, young Southern Belle to a bruised and broken-hearted alcoholic woman. In a breathtaking performance, Mutso dramatises Blanche’s inner torment through a composed stillness, intense wide eyes and her sensual figure moving with flirtatious spirit and dream-like grace.
It is quite uncanny that even without any of Williams’ poetic, passionate words spoken, you can almost hear her growing despair – “ I don’t want realism. I want magic!” she seems to shriek, silently.
To have re-created the power and emotion of this classic American play into 100 minutes of contemporary dance is an extraordinary artistic achievement. I cannot describe it better myself – the performance is “ like watching a film, musical, play and ballet all at once!”
Scottish Ballet UK tour:
18 – 21 March, 2015: Festival Theatre, Edinburgh;
31 March – 2 April, 2015, Sadlers Wells, London
Scottish Ballet USA tour
Thu 7 – Sat 9 May 2015
Tobin Center – Tue 12 May 2015
Brown Theater – Fri 15 May 2015 – 7.30pm
Byham Theater – Tue 19 May 2015
Spoleto Festival College of Charleston Sottile Theatre
Fri 22 – Sun 24 May 2015
Kennedy Center – Thu 28 – Sat 30 May 2015