Hedda Gabler

An Astounding Study in Narcissism and Manipulation

Reviewed by Mary Alderson

The production of Hedda Gabler, now on stage at the Tom Patterson Theatre, is a newer view, from a recent translation. It is, to my eyes and ears, a study in narcissism. Hedda is a manipulative, power-hungry, controlling woman who even resorts to her own brand of gaslighting. In the beginning we wonder how she got this way.

Hedda is newly married and bored to tears by her academic husband Tesman. She hates his Aunt Juliana, who raised Tesman. Hedda deliberately insults the aunt, under the pretense that she had made a mistake.

Tesman is in line for a professorship, and is discouraged to learn that another academic, Lovborg might get the post. Lovborg has quit drinking and is writing remarkable material. What Tesman doesn’t know is that Lovborg and Hedda were once lovers. Lovborg tells Tesman he’s not interested in the professorship, as he wants to write. Lovborg is also in a relationship with a neighbour, Mrs. Thea Elvsted, who has left her husband for him. Hedda is jealous of Thea and wants to control her by treating her cruelly.

Into this strange world walks Judge Brack, who has had an illicit relationship with Hedda. Brack seems to be a gentleman, but soon we see that he, too, is calculating and devious. He controls Hedda. We wonder if this is where she learned her evil behaviour. It all comes to a shocking, sudden conclusion.

Sara Topham is brilliant as Hedda Gabler. Her disdain for her husband, his housekeeper and his aunt is palpable, even before she says anything. Her quick personality changes between friendly and hateful demonstrate her ability to manipulate others. Topham is back in Stratford after a year of playing Sally in the original Broadway company of Tom Stoppard’s Leopoldstadt.

Tom McCamus is perfect as Judge Brack, seemingly a pleasant fellow, but controlling as soon as the opportunity arises. A long time Stratford and Shaw actor, McCamus always makes a character more interesting.  Brad Hodder as Lovborg and Gordon S. Miller as Tesman are both excellent, as is the rest of the cast.

This is a play where you don’t want to take your eyes off the actors: you feel the need to watch their reactions at all times. For most of the nearly two-hour performance, you are on the edge of your seat, wondering what will happen next. Then when the appalling, sudden ending arrives, you are left with much food for thought.

Hedda Gabler continues in repertory until September 28 at Tom Patterson Theatre, Stratford. Tickets are available at the Stratford Festival by calling 1-800-567-1600 or online at www.stratfordfestival.ca

Photo: Tom McCamus as Judge Brack and Sara Topham as Hedda in Hedda Gabler. Photo by David Hou.

Hedda Gabler
By Henrik Ibsen
A New Version by Patrick Marber
From A Literal Translation by Karin and Ann Bamborough
Directed By Molly Atkinson
Performed by Sara Topham, Tom McCamus, Brad Hodder, Gordon S. Miller, Kim Horsman, Bola Aiyeola, Joella Crichton.
Tom Patterson Theatre, Stratford
May 30 to September 28, 2024
Reviewed by Mary Alderson

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