Stars explained: * A production of no real merit with failings in all areas. ** A production showing evidence of not enough time or effort, or even talent, and which never breathes any real life into the piece – or a show lumbered with a terrible script. *** A good enjoyable show which might have some small flaws but has largely achieved what it set out to do.**** An excellent show which shows a great deal of work and stage craft with no noticeable or major flaws.***** A four star show which has found that extra bit of magic which lifts theatre to another plane.
Half stars fall between the ratings

Hedda triumphs over adversity

Hedda Gabler

Highbury Theatre Centre, Sutton Coldfield


THE prospect of an evening of Ibsen can be a daunting one for a prospective audience. Ian Appleby's production, ably supported by a splendid set, ensures that the patrons need have no qualms – and this makes it worth an extra medal, because the weeks leading up to the first night were not exactly easy.

With three weeks to opening night, the actress playing the title role withdrew and Faye Hatch, who had until then been Mrs Elvsted, took over. It was another week before Marion Pritchett was recruited as the replacement Mrs Elvsted – and let it be said at once that no one in the first-night audience could have suspected a thing.

Both replacements rose to the challenges they had taken on and both acquitted themselves with distinction. Faye Hatch, in particular, wears the huge central role like a tailored suit. This is a confident account of a confident, prickly character.

Meanwhile, Marion Pritchett's Mrs Elvsted is similarly pleasing in her mastery of her fortnight-old responsibilities. Both actresses deserve congratulations – as.indeed do the other members of the cast, because when newcomers arrive at a late rehearsal stage there are inevitably adjustments to be made. Whatever those adjustments were, they don't show. This is a production that is served up as a disciplined package, asking for no allowances – and not needing any.

Lee Davies turns up early on in a pair of startling trousers and clearly well-drilled mode, to deliver a somewhat declamatory Jorgen Tesman. Barbara Garrett (Julia Tesman) cloaks her character's over-generosity in an inexorable rolling delivery, and Richard Irons makes the most of the sinister undertones of Judge Brack, who is not above indulging in a spot of blackmail.

One of the particularly interesting characters is Berthe the maid, played by Sandra Haynes.  She is required to offer an unexpected “Bless you” to Hedda, and whenever she is loitering in the background there is no knowing what she will say next. Robert Laird is Ejlert Loevborg, recovering alcoholic and former lover of Hedda. Inevitably, he is doing himself no good by returning into Hedda's circle. He doesn't do Hedda a fat lot of good, either. . .

This is a fine production that has risen above its troubles and does not have a weak link. To 19.11.11.

John Slim 

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