Originally written for The Public Reviews
Arriving at Sutton House for Palimpsest’s Hedda is somewhat of a confusing experience. At once part of and party to the narrative, one is treated both as a house guest and an audience member for an odd interval, while being encouraged to look around the house. Various installations have been set up but without prior knowledge of whether the production will come to use these spaces and with staff still bustling around to set things up – both in and out of costume – the boundaries are not quite clearly defined and one feels less free reign to be inquisitive. The place has more the air of a museum than a home; fitting perhaps for the character of Hedda, but disorientating for the audience as we find ourselves at once both in the universe of the play and out of it as we are addressed alternately by characters and staff.
Once it gets down to it, however, and we are seated in the impressive oak panelled drawing room, Katherine Tozer’s adaptation is quite affecting. Hesitant, detached and quietly unravelling, her Hedda breathes a muted, desperate energy into her caged mansion. Where Ibsen’s Hedda can be opaque and her actions sensible only to her own internal logic, Tozer draws a through line of disaffected jealousy for a lost love driven by fear of entrapment in a passionless marriage and a blackmail driven affair. With her pregnancy confirmed, the walls of Hedda’s bower are closing in around her; having married in the certainty that her days of youthful abandon are over, she now fails to find within herself the resignation to adapt to such a life.
It is an interesting attempt to make more linear narrative choices for an erratic character, but the trimming of the script does remove some of Hedda’s more sympathetic qualities; her concern for others and her family background. Though we may better understand her actions, she is reduced to vengeance and desperation. Chris Polick’s Edmund provides the perfect agitated and impetuous foil to George Tesman’s (Geoffrey Newland) distracted bookishness as we wonder whether it is affection or ease of control that Hedda enjoys most in a partner. In personifying Diana (Nina Richardson), Tozer brings form to Hedda’s often abstract enemy – a woman open with her body and her desires, to whom Edmund flees. Richardson’s beautiful singing voice lends a rich, beating tension to Hedda’s moments of indecision.
The decision to involve a multi-platform narrative both succeeds and fails – delivered alone, a film of Hedda and Edmund set three years in the past lacks impact, but within the context of the play it finds its feet. The website of Hedda’s book is beautiful and worth exploring, but having sound and multimedia elements scattered throughout the house does provide the odd duality of it being both Hedda’s home and an abstract commentary on her life, which fails to gel entirely. Overall, Hedda is a surprisingly rich and ambitious exploration of character that is only slightly let down by the interaction of its multiple formats.