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Hedda Gabler

Hedda Gabler

By By Henrik Ibsen
Translated from the Norwegian by Michael Meyer

“These impulses come over me all of a sudden, and I just can’t resist them."




StarStarStar View from behind the Arras, Roderic Dunnett

Nothing will stop me asserting this company is one of the best young outfits in English theatre today, giving a platform to some of the ablest prospects setting out on their acting career, or from encouraging you to see them whenever they come anywhere near you.  

Theo Holloway is credited for music and sound. The music had little feel for period or moment or location. Occasionally spooky (some nice contrabassoon, or so it seemed) in a banal, unfocused kind of way, it added virtually nothing and sometimes tangibly detracted. Michael Meyer’s famously proficient translation seemed, for all his having been ‘the definitive translator of ten or more Ibsen and some eight-plus Strindberg’, to lack a real feeling for cadence.

Ilona Kahn’s costumes were rather good: you really could imagine the (as we later learn) dangerously randy, perverse, even perverted Judge Brack (Julian Pindar) or confused Thea Elvstead (Holly Piper) had stepped straight out of a late 19th century Danish or Norwegian painting.

In some ways it was David Martin’s Juergen (George) Tesman, Hedda’s haplessly  intellectual, family-oriented, naively loyal husband - in Othello Martin played Iago, a character as far removed as it would be possible to be - who held this production together.

Tesman is at the least consistent: wielding a clay pipe, faffing over old fashioned courtesies, poring over family documents, deliciously boring with his lightly lilting  put-on voice, but in the end a total turn-off for his emotionally explosive, sexually-charged young wife (Alice Bonifacio). You can see (‘imagine having to spend every month of one’s life with one person’) why she is headed for suicide even at the start, even without her appalling machinations: how else can it end?

Cast as Ford in Shakespeare’s Merry Wives for Illyria Open-Air Theatre, that is more or less how Martin plays George here: a fond, bumbling dolt. It works well, and I found his moves and little half gestures always interesting. A prat, but a patently noble one whose academic pursuits might actually better the world.

Hedda, the famous general’s spoilt daughter who behaves with military ruthlessness (‘more her father’s daughter than her husband’s wife’, as the playwright suggested), is onstage virtually throughout, and it was latterly that Bonifacio seemed to acquire stature and detail: a flick of the head, a sudden freeze, a smirk, a slight sidle, or a rather smug striding across the stage. Earlier, less so. She is deliberately positioned – sometimes almost stuck - stage right by Lewendel, and brings to Mrs. Tesman/Gabler an aptly dangerous, Medea-like quality, never more so than when her look assumes a kind of frozen, death’s-head quality.

Piper’s Thea Elvstead (Elvsted) struck me as a reading laden with strengths, touching on depth. She moved better, produced a believably mixed-up kid of a woman, and held one every time she bewitchingly spoke. Yet the best find was David Sayers as Eilert Loevborg, the former love interest Hedda, with ghastly pinpoint precision, drives to needless suicide.


Remote Goat,Buxton Opera House

StarStarStarStar -Tim Mottershead


Like Ibsen’s more frequently performed ‘A Doll’s House’, this play also centres on a strong central female character, in this case Hedda Gabler (the use of her pre-marriage name throughout is noteworthy) whose determination to provide her life with real meaning, and fulfil her destiny, is the engine which drives the action forward. Yet every action, however well-meaning, always has a corresponding reaction, and even a character as strong and so apparently sure of herself as Hedda can misread a situation, with sometimes profound and far-reaching consequences.

Alice Bonifacio delivered such a mesmerizing portrayal of Hedda, that it was immediately apparent why the other characters should be so totally in thrall to her. Indeed it would not be too fanciful to describe her presence as being like a vortex into which the others were irresistibly drawn. Although Hedda exerts influence over the other main female character in the play Thea Elvstead (Holly Piper) whose association with Eilert Loevborg she seeks to undermine; the principal focus is on the men within her sphere of influence. The man with whom Hedda most obviously identifies is Loevborg himself – who received a powerful and commanding performance from David Sayers. 

David Martin (fresh in the mind of Buxton Opera House patrons from his role as Iago in ‘Othello’) showed what an accomplished actor he is, with a near-perfect characterization of Hedda’s new husband, the kindly, bumbling, family orientated - and of course fatally parochial - George Tesman. Reliable rather than exciting, he is in his element when fussing over his Aunt Ju-Ju (a small yet important role for Deborah Klayman) although his finest hour is when he selflessly rises to the challenge of knowingly helping a rival. Yet whilst he is concerned to provide materially for new wife, he is oblivious to her real needs, and despite Hedda’s obvious strength of character, this vulnerability is detected Judge Brack, in a suitably cool performance by Julian Pindar (a role shared on alternate nights with Gary Stoner, also recently seen at Buxton as Othello). Here we are at the heart of one of Ibsen’s main themes: the inner turmoil which lies behind the apparently contented façade. Having detected her vulnerability Judge Brack now simply awaits the opportunity to exploit it to his own advantage. 

Once again Icarus theatre’s sets were superbly imaginative, with three differently coloured rooms on three levels of elevation, surrounding a central living room with stove at ground level. Eirik Bar as servant to the Tesman residence completed the talented cast, who delivered a compelling interpretation to the inevitabilities of Ibsen’s complex plot. This is a play that should be seen by all.


Derbyshire Times - Lynn Patrick

Scandinavian drama is very much in vogue at the moment; perhaps Icarus Theatre Collective’s revival of Norwegian playwright Henrik Ibsen’s 19th century tragedy Hedda Gabler was timely.

But this was no dark, brooding thriller. Ibsen, ahead of his time, addressed real issues: in this case, bored women trapped in unhappy marriages, the fate of Hedda and her former schoolmate Thea.

Alice Bonfacio gave power-seeking Hedda a brittle, mannered veneer which ill-disguised her boredom with her empty life. Nervy, emotional Thea (Holly Piper) contrasted well.

David Martin, no stranger to Chesterfield audiences, was Tesman, Hedda’s naïve, bookish husband, almost childlike in his eagerness to please.

Hedda’s former suitors, suave manipulator Brack (Julian Pindar) and passionate Loevborg (David Sayers) fell foul of her mischief-making along with fussy Aunt Julie (Deborah Klayman).

Ibsen is never a bundle of laughs and rarely ends happily. Hedda Gabler is no exception.

Icarus put across the undercurrents and suggestions Ibsen used to imply matters which were unmentionable at the time: pregnancy, infidelity, lust all lurked just below the surface.


The Scotsman - Kelly Apter

Watching Alice Bonifacio of Icarus Theatre Collective take on the eponymous role, it’s clear Hedda is her own woman. With fire in her eyes, and a look that feels seconds away from menace, Bonifacio does a fine job of carrying this most iconic of 19th century female characters.

The boredom, desire for greater things, and resignation to a loveless marriage are all writ large in her body language, facial expressions and tone – but more importantly, she captures the sense that Hedda is somehow “other” from those around her.

Pre-interval, it’s a fairly level playing field performance-wise. David Martin limps across the stage, embodying the ineffectual academic husband who will never be the man Hedda needs him to be. When life starts to spiral out of control in acts three and four and more is demanded of the six performers, however Bonifacio stands out from the crowd. But even she feels hemmed in at times, by direction that mirrors the set design – aesthetically pleasing, but restrictive. The denouement carries little weight and it’s hard to feel much emotional involvement with any of them.


Getreading - Caroline Cook

In Hedda Gabler playwright Henrik Ibsen may have created the perfect female character.

Hedda is feisty and wicked, vulnerable and misunderstood - a woman of many contradictions who intrigues as much as she repulses.

And Alice Bonifacio, who takes on the momentous role in Icarus Theatre's production, keeps the balance just right.

Her bored nonchalance when she acts the happy housewife parallels wonderfully with the malicious twinkle in her eyes as things take a darker turn, and it's hard to look away from Bonifacio as she stomps across the stage scowling.

Her long period costume floats beneath her as she schemes and plots, playing the men around her like a puppet master who is fed up with his own creations.

Ibsen, who published the play in 1890, clearly has much to say about female roles in Victorian society.

The anxious, snivelling Mrs Elvstead (Holly Piper) is the antithesis of Hedda's strong, and enthralling personality and is consequently far less compelling to watch, although she is the one who keeps her morals in tact.

While Bonifacio plays Hedda with a calm restraint, much of her history and emotion is barely spelt out, the men of the play are open books.

David Martin plays a rather annoying George Tesman, his constant refrain of a posh 'what' grating by the end, and his wimpish behaviour letting us feel little sympathy for the husband so dominated by his unkind wife.

We might not feel sympathy for him when Hedda barks and snaps and scoffs at the word 'love' but he stands as a moral compass and should be admired for that at least.

The ill-fated Eilert Loevborg (David Sayers) is played almost like the passionate woman, undone by his theatrics and uncontrollable emotions, while Judge Brack (Gary Stoner) plays a complicated power struggle with Hedda, part conspirator, part enemy.

As she begins to unravel Hedda becomes more compelling but the final climax was let down by a lack of sound, seemingly (and hopefully) due to a technical hitch rather than an error of judgement.

Of course these things happen in the theatre, but unfortunately it reduced what should have been the most powerful moment of the play to something of a deflated balloon.


Reading Post -Interview with Alice Bonifacio (Hedda)

Hedda Gabler is much more than the title of a play.

It is a feminist symbol, a resistance against patriarchy, a message of rebellion – and all because Hedda Gabler really should be called Hedda Tesman.

Although married to George Tesman at the very start of Henrik Ibsen’s play, Hedda keeps her maiden name in the title.

And it is a powerful indicator of what Ibsen was trying to say.

Described as one of the first feminist characters in theatre, Hedda refuses to conform to the ideals her patriarchal society demands.

Unsatisfied with her role as happy wife, she schemes and plots, chasing power to the point of no return.

And it makes her one of the most exciting characters for an actress to play.

“It’s very daunting, but equally she is a wonderful character and a very exciting character to play because she is so complex,” says Alice Bonifacio, who is playing Hedda in the Icarus Theatre Collective’s production at South Hill Park next week.

Using original music by Theo Holloway, traditional costumes and a dramatically lit, turn-of-the century, household set, Icarus Theatre are living up to their reputation as a visually rich and dynamic theatre company.

The company performed Othello in Bracknell last year and are looking forward to returning with a rich tale of wealth, scheming and rebellion.

Regarded as a right of passage for any actress, the role of Hedda has been played by everyone from Dame Maggie Smith, to most recently Sheridan Smith, and Alice says they are ‘big boots to fill’.

“As a female actor or actress, I think it’s a great opportunity for women out there to be able to come and see a strong role.

“I’m looking forward to tackling that and being a vehicle for that. It’s very exciting and there’s lots of bits to play with.

“And I’m completely in love with Ibsen. He writes terribly well for women.”

Norwegian playwright Ibsen wrote Hedda Gabler in 1890, and the protagonist’s strong-headed attitude and Lady Macbeth-style plotting were at odds with the meek, obedient women Victorian society expected.

“I have played Lady Macbeth before,” says Alice, as we discuss Hedda’s similarity to Shakespeare’s wicked wife.

“I’m really addicted to these dark characters – to be able to present the other side of that dark person, the human side of them.

“It’s certainly what we do with Othello [which Icarus is touring for the second time alongside Hedda Gabler].

“Our Desdemona plays a strong Desdemona rather than the wet rag you often see.

“Icarus is playing a very human view of these wonderful female characters.”

The human side of Hedda is something Alice has enjoyed exploring while playing the character on tour.

“I actually think that when I first became acquainted with Hedda she was definitely more of a villain and more Machiavellian.

“But having read it and performed it I feel there’s an awful lot of empathy people can feel. She is human.

“All of Ibsen’s women are victims of the patriarchal society and Hedda is a wonderful example of how things can be misconstrued and how circumstances can have an influence on someone.

“You can compare it to something like August Strinberg’s Miss Julie. Ibsen and August Strinberg were big rivals at the time.

“Miss Julie’s fatal flaw is that she is a woman and she is hysterical but the difference in Hedda is that her flaw is explained by her being a victim of her situations and her upbringing.

“There is no character who is purely evil. There is always a motive.”

10 Minutes with Alice Bonifacio - The Public Review

Playing the lead in a classic play is surely every actor’s dream, so landing the title role in Ibsen’s Hedda Gabler for your professional debut must be both incredibly exciting and a little overwhelming. During a rare break at the Millfield Theatre, Icarus Theatre’s Alice Bonifacio spoke to Robin Winters about fjords, fires and fiendish females.

What does is feel like to be beginning your career playing such a iconic role?

Admittedly rather daunting – Maggie Smith, Eve Best and Sheridan Smith are to name but a few of my big booted predecessors! Obviously I’m delighted though, Hedda is such a fabulous role and I feel very fortunate and proud to be playing her. It has certainly taught me a thing or two about stamina as I barely leave the stage for the two hours, and when I do it is usually just for a quick change in to another of my beautiful costumes!

What is it that particularly drew you to the role?

Hedda is such a blank canvass for any actress to play: with such a wide emotional range, she can switch between Machiavellian and ingénue in the same heartbeat. I knew the role would be a challenge, emotionally and physically, and that was something that definitely drew me to it as I welcome the opportunity to really push myself.

Hedda is often seen as somewhat of a feminist icon, what are your views?

Even though Ibsen vehemently denied ever being a feminist, he undoubtedly wrote some of the greatest parts for women in theatre! Hedda is arguably an emerging feminist in an oppressive patriarchal society, still bridled by the old world and longing for the new. She may not have decided to take her own life a couple of decades later than the play, as full women’s suffrage was granted in Norway in 1913, but her behaviour was certainly extremely shocking for the time and she represents a side of women that had not previously been seen on stage.

Ibsen chose to call her by her maiden name in the play’s title, apparently to indicate that she be regarded as her father’s daughter rather than her husband’s wife. Does that resonate with you?

Certainly, I think that is a very interesting distinction and one that rings true in our production. All the women in the play are defined by the men in their lives, but even in death Hedda’s father’s presence is keenly felt and impacts on her.

Hedda has been portrayed as both villain and victim, a hero and a coward – which do you think she is?

Hedda is like any other human being, in that she can display all of these characteristics throughout the play. We have all been the villain or the victim at some point in our lives, although perhaps not taken to the same extremes!

You are playing Hedda in rep with Othello until May – have you found many differences in the rehearsal process for the two productions?

Othello is much more of a lively ensemble piece, and the majority of the cast play multiples roles as well as the integral music. The live music is the 9th cast member in that production, which compliments Shakespeare’s lyrical quality. Hedda is far more naturalistic and has more conversational dialogue, plus the characters are constrained by the etiquette and social rules of the time so we had to concentrate a lot more on those aspects in this process.

What have you enjoyed most about being part of a touring company, and what has been the hardest aspect?

The sense of camaraderie is one of the best aspects of being part of a rep company. The actors are phenomenally supportive of one another which is essential for our work on stage, and we are all genuinely friends so we have a lot of fun on and off stage. The long hours certainly take their toll, and changing accommodation so frequently can be challenge, but in the face of adversity we always seem to pull through!

At present you are working in the theatre, but which medium do you prefer: stage, television, or film?

I only worked on my first film last year, The Christmas Candle, so I’m still deciding! It was wonderful to be able to have something immortalised on film but the joy of theatre is sharing something that is entirely unique in space and time with an audience.

When did you get the performing bug and do you remember your first time on stage?

Yes it was as an angel in Greg Doran’s production of the York Millennium Mystery Plays.

If you hadn’t become an actor, what do you think you’d be doing now?

I have a lot of interests, though I would say they are all theatrically linked… I honestly can’t remember not wanting to perform, but I feel I must echo my headmistress’s mantra when I left The Cheltenham Ladies’ College: ‘Don’t pull the politician, girls, BE the politician!’

If you could have waved a magic wand and cast yourself in any role for your debut, which would you have chosen and why?

If I had to pick a different role perhaps it would be Nina from The Seagull. That said, I know it sounds glib, but I’d have to pick Hedda – it was a role I always hoped to play, and I do really feel so grateful to have been given the opportunity so early in my career.

Finally, what is the most exciting thing about being in the production?

It has to be opening night – I just can’t wait to get started!


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