Hedda

By John Nathan, September 4, 2008
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Gate Theatre, London W11
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Writer Lucy Kirkwood has updated Ibsen's 1890 classic to now, moved it from Oslo to London and set it in a trendily dilapidated flat.

On paper this is a clever transition. Ibsen's calculating heroine is now a member of the rich, smug West Londoner set who think that they are living an inner-city life by comfortably slumming it somewhere hugely expensive off the Portobello Road.

The result is that Cara Horgan's Hedda is reduced to a relentless emotional terrorist. In Ibsen's 19th-century version she is trapped in conventions that make her life impossibly unrewarding. Here we know this Hedda is depressed because she sits around the flat listening to Radiohead. But there is also the sense that pregnancy, the death of her father and her marriage to Tom Mison's charisma-free academic George serve as excuses rather than reasons for Hedda's self-indulgence.

The suspicion is confirmed when Christopher Obi's Toby Brack - here not a judge, but a partying lawyer - accuses her of snobbery because she won't get a job like most people. "I'm not most people," she says. "I'm discerning."

Still, Carrie Cracknell's fine production pares the play down to a slick, uninterrupted two hours. But computer nerds may spot one modern parallel that has an unintended effect. Because Adrian Bower's recovering dissolute Eli keeps his precious unpublished work of genius not as a manuscript but on a memory stick, Hedda's wilful destruction of the work is no longer irredeemable. I won't reveal her method - in the original she burns the manuscript - but I can see geeky George tempted to try a spot of information retrieval. (Tel: 020 7229 0706)

    Last updated: 3:59pm, September 10 2008