Posts Tagged ‘Ruth Wilson’

Review – Hedda Gabler – Ivo Van Hove at the National Theater

December 8, 2016

HELLO. THIS IS A REVIEW OF A PREVIEW. IF YOU GIVE A FLYING F, DON’T READ THIS AND DON’T COMPLAIN TO ME BECAUSE I DON’T CARE A BIT.

Hedda Gabler. Ivo Van Hove. In no way were either of these things unknown quantities to me when I walked into the National Theater with the most expensive tickets I’d bought to see a show there all year (£39 , thank God for preview pricing!).

Ibsen is one of my favorite playwrights, and Hedda Gabler is the first play I ever saw by him. It established his presence in my developing mental landscape as someone who built complex characters and brought them to a boil in front of me. Ibsen had me asking myself as I walked out of the theater (some 20 plus years ago), “What was Hedda’s childhood like?” and this, the creation of a creature so real I could believe she had a childhood, marked him for me as a truly outstanding playwright. Hedda has reasons for acting the way that she does: I just don’t know them all.

And then there’s director of the moment Ivo Van Hove. I’ve heard his praises sung to the high heavens by Oughttobeclowns but to date I’ve found his production emotionally dry. Stylish, but not touching. Now, for the price I paid for View from the Bridge it’s possible that it could never meet my expectations (given how I feel about the script): Song from Far Away managed to turn suicide into a nap fest. But this was Hedda. I was ready to be blown away.

The set is bare and realistic; the white walls of an unfinished apartment, a very noticeable gun cabinet; nearly nothing to sit on anywhere; loads of flowers in buckets; and a patio window with blinds that gave the wonderful opportunity for light play (open! shut! open! shut!). In addition, the piano gives Hedda something to plink at while she’s being bored; and those flowers allow for some meta decorating of the apartment when she goes on a rant. Hedda: was rich, now isn’t, expects the world to be at her feet. She’s not meant to be sympathetic, not really; but she should be vibrant, and as Ruth Wilson inhabits the character, oh, she is, she is, she is, and she simply can’t be blamed for the overuse of Joni Mitchell (full credit for finishing with Nina Simone’s “Wild is the Wind,” though). With her mane of red hair, I saw her as the incarnation of Rita Hayworth as Glinda; beautiful and deadly (and never more so than when she’s pointing a pistol at Row W Seats 14 and 15, please do not be alarmed).

But the rest of it. Van Hove has, with muscle, dragged this play out of the Victorian era and into the modern; but Hedda’s boredom seems as unrealistic in modern times as the constant delivery of letters that really should have been phone calls. Hedda needs a TV and the internet and most of her boredom could be taken care of. And, transposed into the modern, the obsession with scandal and the deliberate choice to ignore the fact that, if you loathe your husband of six months than maybe it’s time for a D-I-V-O-R-C-E (this song was NOT chosen). But it doesn’t even come up. Miserable people in miserable marriages must stay married; lonely bored people need to sit inside and be sad because nothing is happening there; outside of the realm of the Tabloid newspaper, there is no scandal on the level that Hedda fears will come her way if her role in the death of her beloved ex-suitor Lovborg (Chukwudi Iwuji) comes to light. We have options available to us today.

But … I almost forgot that. Hedda was a bullied but I believed in Brack’s (Rafe Spall) ability and enthusiasm about spending years tormenting her. And sure it was a bit silly to have him spit blood red soda all over her dress but it was a lovely way to express how violated she now was. And with her narrow view of the world – one room only, and no TV – I felt her trapped, and I felt her animal like desire to be free, to leap over all of the walls and limitations drawn around her by the world she was born into. And, yeah, it was really good. It’s an excellent play and this production doesn’t stint. Just forget about cell phones for a few hours (thank God all of the audience managed to, somehow!) and it’s just about perfect.

(This review is for a performance that took pace on December 7th, 2016. It continues through March 21st. I have to add that I loved Sinead Matthews as Mrs Elvsted, with her raspy voice and blowsy hair and beautifully designed dress made to really emphasize her character – it’s a lesser role but her desperation felt so very real that … wow. Fabulous.)

Review – A Streetcar Named Desire – Donmar Warehouse

August 27, 2009

Coming out of Hamlet, I was feeling pretty chary about going to A Streetcar Named Desire. Woo woo, another celeb driven classic that should have been revived simply based on its own merits and not because some screen star felt like spending his/her time slumming on the stage. I had been really excited about getting tickets to it (mostly thanks to the West End Whingers’ review), but this had all trickled away by the time the actual day rolled around. And, well, I had a cold (which I still have, three days later), and I actually tried to return the tickets, but the Donmar wouldn’t accept them as we actually had the paper tickets in our hands and couldn’t get them in theirs without trudging into town. So we trudged, bringing lots of cough drops and hoping we didn’t irritate the other patrons too much.

In retrospect, I’m glad they wouldn’t accept my tickets over the phone, as this was really a spectacular presentation of what I’m now convinced is one of the best plays of the 20th century – a play that far surpasses its silver screen version. Sure, the movie is an hour shorter, but the stuff that’s packed into that hour, which we get to see on stage, is really amazing. Tennessee Williams convinced us that these people existed – Stella (Ruth Wilson, incredibly superior to the film’s Stella), making a life for herself with the cards she was dealt, and succeeding at it far better than her sister; Stanley (Elliot Cowan), a violent bully who’s also loving and protective; Mitch (Barnaby Kay), a man who wants love in the form of someone who appeals to his better nature; and Blanche (Rachel Weisz), who’s pretentious and a liar but still trying to get through a life that seems headed downhill in a way that won’t leave her utterly broken. After the show we wound up debating what their pasts were like and what their futures were likely to be – meaning we’d accepted them as real people. Now that is some damned fine writing.

It has to be said that the presentation of this show did much to make it feel so real. J, who’s a big burnout due to getting a theatrical MFA and having spent most of his 20s in the theater, actually gasped when he walked in and saw the Donmar had been entirely transformed into the French Quarter, complete with replacement lacy ironwork surrounding the upper floor of the theater instead of the normal workaday iron bars. (This made us feel like we were spectators for a bunch of family fights in our neighborhood, quite appropriate given how close these folks lived together.) The set captured nicely both the airiness of the French Quarter and the very much run-down nature of life there pre-gentrification – a gorgeous spiral staircase wound up almost three stories but still, it was just two crappy two roomed apartments piled on top of each other – beauty, rot and claustrophobia all right there.

While the focus of the show (and my review) could easily be on Ms. Rachel Weisz as Blanche (she was, after all, on stage for pretty much every minute of the show), I wasn’t so amazed by her performance – it was good but I don’t think defined the role in the way I was hoping for. (She was too shrill at times and just a touch too young for the role.) However, the supporting cast was so generally outstanding that I’d like to pay them tribute. My favorite was Ruth Wilson as Blanche’s sister, Stella. This role was pretty much a cipher in the movie – a pregnant woman married to an abusive husband. But in this play, it was clear she was also a woman who’d given up a glorious past and let herself go with her passionate side – yet wound up in a much better place than Blanche, because she’d turned her back on it and never looked back. Ruth (as Stella) was really convincingly in love with Stanley and made the strain she felt being pulled between her husband and her sister very visible. She also had a bit of the look of someone who used to get all dressed up and know what proper manners were supposed to be. What was amazing was how she and Elliot Cowan were really able to carry off the dynamic of two people who were both intensely sexually attracted to each other but also could fight violently – then pull through the anger and make up to each other, all the while showing how close they were to each other – this was a vision of life in America that had so much truth to it I couldn’t believe it had ever really been portrayed as well on the stage before or since. God knows Carousel didn’t manage it.

While this may not be the Streetcar of a lifetime, still, it was vibrant and alive and worth dragging myself off my sickbed to see. And, I’m pleased to say, we didn’t wind up coughing our way through it, and even though we were stuck way off on the sides we could still see it pretty darned well. If you haven’t got tickets, well, time to hope this show gets transferred – though to be honest I don’t think you’ll ever capture that famous Donmar intimacy (and the effect this has on you as an audience member) anywhere else. Recommended.

(This review is for a performance that took place on Tuesday, August 25th. It continues through October 3rd. The Donmar releases standing room tickets for every performance, and this is worth standing through. Else, please see my tips on getting tickets for sold out shows.)