Last week's production
Last week's production

Review - Hedda Gabler

The Castle Players

AT this time of year, a night out at the theatre probably means a comedy, a panto or something with a nice tune or two to lift the winter’s gloom – just look no further than elsewhere in the dale.

The Teesdale Players raised plenty of laughs with Mother Goose earlier this month and Gainford Drama Group are in the middle of a run with A Kick in the Baubles.

All of which made The Castle Players’ choice of Henrik Ibsen’s Hedda Gabler an interesting one. It is an unusual play in so far as there isn’t a hero or heroine – the stage is populated by monsters and victims and, given the small number of characters, there is a high body count.

The story takes place on the return from honeymoon/research trip of Hedda and her husband Tesman who have taken up residence in a large apartment they can’t afford on the promise of a professorship for the bookish academic.

This is thrown into doubt by arrival of Tesman’s alcoholic rival Lovborg, who has cleaned up his act and rediscovered his genius.

The play hinges on the relationship between the characters, especially Hedda and Tesman.

She tells the audience early on that with her best days seemingly behind her, she has “settled” for him, but as portrayed here the level of contempt shown by Hedda left me totally unconvinced they would ever have spent more than two minutes in each others’ company before parting ways.

There was no hint of friendship, fondness or even respect shown by Hedda towards Tesman or his work, while he ran about after her rather like a puppy.

As for the idea they had actually been intimate and she was carrying his baby – it seemed ludicrous.

Then there was Tesman and Lovborg – one minute they were seemingly fierce rivals, with Tesman wracked by jealousy; the next the best of buddies. Which was it?

And there was Brack, wanting to be everyone’s friend while his scheming mind never slowed.

I'll be honest, this wasn’t really my cup of tea and the scene of Hedda destroying Lovborg’s notes really did remind me of Blackadder’s Dr Johnson episode (Baldrick: “You mean the big papery thing...? I burnt it!).

However, there was much to admire on stage.

Susannah Handley put in a top turn as Hedda, who in the end, couldn’t handle the fact she was no longer in control of events. I’ll look forward to seeing her next role.

The ever-dependable Ben Pearson’s Brack was magnificently manipulative, while Oliver Smith was suitably weak-willed as Lovborg and Phoebe Lorenz struck a nice note of naivety as Thea.

The audience at the sell-out performance I attended lapped it all up and I have no doubt they will be queuing up when The Castle Players head out on tour in the new year with Dickens’ The Old Curiosity Shop.