Is Ibsen’s Hedda Gabler a 19th-century neurotic soul in torment? Not according to the Sydney Theatre Company’s production, directed by Robyn Nevin. Their Hedda (Cate Blanchett) is apparently a visitor from the future, so contemporary and so outspokenly obvious in her contempt for everybody else’s Victorian posturings that the Tesman family and Judge Brack would have to be lobotomy cases not to notice. Gaunt, fine-boned, and understated, Blanchett is a fascinating stage personality, but setting her so blatantly against what’s going on around her misses the point and drains away all dramatic interest.
The simple truth that Blanchett and her colleagues overlook is that Hedda herself is a consummate actress: Otherwise even a dodo like Tesman would have long since noticed that something was wrong with his marriage. The deep power of denial bred by ingrained social conventions (“People don’t do such things!”) is part of Ibsen’s point, but it’s hard to deny what’s being thrown in your face every minute. A century-plus after Hedda‘s premiere, we know where all the heroine’s barbs are hidden, but if the other characters share that knowledge, the company might as well be playing Barefoot in the Park. Andrew Upton’s adaptation, jumbling today’s colloquialisms with “fancy that”s, doesn’t offer much guidance. Let’s hope to see Blanchett onstage again soon, but in the same time frame as her colleagues.