Hedda Gabler, National Theatre (Lyttelton), London — ‘Precise’

With each other at final: Henrik Ibsen and Joni Mitchell. Ivo van Hove’s production of Ibsen’s Hedda Gabler for the National Theatre contains several excerpts of Mitchell’s “Blue” (as well as Jeff Buckley’s version of “Hallelujah” and Nina Simone’s of “Wild Is the Wind”) to emphasise the concentrate on relationships rather than person personalities. This is not a production about Hedda’s character, her impulses and flaws, but about her interaction with absolutely everyone else.

Ruth Wilson’s Hedda is not the familiar fiery, uncontrollable figure of arrogance on the contrary, she spends a lot of the time buttoned up. 1 can see the bitterness and discontent, but also a sense of circumscription and confinement which is practically a organic procedure. Patrick Marber’s precise, deliberate version has her describe her marriage to the uninteresting Tesman as a result: “I required to settle [down] I settled for him.” Kyle Soller’s Tesman, too, is far from the usual tweedy nerd he’s basically fundamentally insufficient for Hedda. And as for Judge Brack — generally portrayed as a middle-aged sexual opportunist who takes an chance also many — right here Rafe Spall is an precise modern of the Tesmans, and is moreover sinister and repeatedly physically abusive. In van Hove’s vision, it is not Hedda’s more than-involvement with her old flame Eilert Lovborg (the underrated Chukwudi Iwuji) that propels her downfall, but Brack’s uncaring predations.

Jan Versweyfeld’s set is his characteristic blend of minimalism and detail: a stark loft-style apartment with practically no furniture, save an upright piano to link with the Mitchell song’s arrangement and occasional discrete notes heard at other occasions. But it does include several buckets of flowers for the newly returned Tesman, flowers which Hedda later flings around the stage and even staples to the walls. There are no doors characters enter and exit by way of the fourth wall. Crucially, this indicates that at the close of the play Hedda cannot viably retreat offstage for her final breakdown and suicide, and so it happens onstage virtually in a blind spot between the other characters’ gazes.

Van Hove may overdo the Brack-is-to-blame point of view, but his stripped-down method, with a baseline of near-screen naturalism until certain intensity is required, performs beautifully at reinvigorating Ibsen.

To March 21, nationaltheatre.org.uk

Section: Arts