It had long been on the cards that Sheridan Smith would complete the transition from frothy TV sitcom to the classical stage. On the way she delivered acclaimed performances, such as her Olivier-winning Elle Woods in the musical Legally Blonde and a cameo as a lonely wife in Flare Path. But in terms of drama, Hedda is in a different league and Smith is in superbly controlled form as Ibsen’s manipulative beauty.
It was said of Glenda Jackson that she did not need to be beautiful to play beautiful woman; she could act beautiful. And Smith does something similar here. In Anna Mackmin’s gripping production she transmits an alluring aloofness that only the beautiful possess.
But the less expected story is what Brian Friel’s translation has done to the play — it has improved it. Hedda’s doting academic husband George Tresman has been enlarged to an altogether more tragic character by giving him comic obsessions. Adrian Scarborough does not put a foot wrong in the role.
Perhaps only Darrell D’Silva’s hugely enjoyable but rather off-beam performance needs recalibrating. As the sexual predator Judge Brack, D’Silva is charm itself. But it is hard to see how, for Hedda, a life with the stultifying Tresman is a fate worse than death while she has the entertaining Brack as a distraction. (www.oldvictheatre.com)