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Loft Theatre review: Hedda

By Barbara Goulden

Hedda, Loft Theatre, Leamington, to January 29.

Supporters of The Loft in Leamington are celebrating the riverside theatre's centenary year with an updated production of the classic drama, Hedda Gabler. written by Norwegian theatrical giant Henrik Ibsen in 1890 and first performed in Germany the following year.

The translated play has rarely been out of favour, with its main character seen as a trapped and tragic heroine by some, and a manipulative monster by others. Perhaps she's both.

Above all, Hedda is bored. Her unique selling point is her beauty which offers considerable influence over her husband and their friends. But that wasn't enough back at the end of the 19th century when middle-class women were expected to do little more than lay a good dinner table and produce dozens of children.

Ibsen would have been aware that some were already calling for the vote, but they weren't getting very far in his day. Women had to flex their powers in other ways.

Which is why I wasn't entirely comfortable with Lucy Kirkwood's 21st century adaptation of the play, relocated to Notting Hill and reduced to the title Hedda. She even throws in a fleeting joke about hippies, but for me this is a character whose motives and machinations sit uneasily in a modern framework.

For all that, Elizabeth Morris, who plays this new version of Hedda, is completely mesmerising on the Loft stage. I couldn't take my eyes off her as she sets about controlling all those around her - with one exception.

Elizabeth is very well supported by Mark Crossley who plays her honourable but dull husband George while having cruel fun at the expense of her kindly sister-in-law, Julia (Lynn Fairbairn).

She is well aware that most of the men around her have loved her in the past though none can live up to her late father. Even women have longed to be her friend, including the hapless Thea (Zoe Mortimer), who has chased down from Scotland in search of chaotic academic Eli Longford. But Eli, played by Mark Roberts, is a man who might well cost George a valuable promotion.

Finally there's suave lawyer Toby, played by Tony Homer, who could cost Hedda a good deal more than that (in the original version Ibsen cast this role as an overweight judge).

I have to offer full marks for the stunning set of this play, which is directed by the experienced Sue Moore - a woman bold enough to allow the bar area of the theatre to display the reviews from three more traditional productions of Hedda performed at The Loft. The first of these dating back to 1934 and the last, not entirely flattering one, by Peter McGarry in 1981.

A drama well-worth seeing.

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