Review: Ruth Wilson in Ivo Van Hove's HEDDA GABLER at the National Theatre, Lyttelton

Henrik Ibsen's plays are some of the best and most iconic works of theatre ever written, so when one of the greatest actresses of our time Ruth Wilson was paired with Ibsen's Hedda Gabler (in a new version by Patrick Marber) along with modern visionary director Ivo Van Hove for his first project at the National Theatre, it's no surprise that it became one of my most anticipated plays of the year.

The story of Hedda Gabler follows the titular character's struggles with her marriage, affairs and the destruction that she seems to cause wherever she goes. After marrying a man that no one really expected her to settle for, she finds herself having to rekindle relationships with old enemies, old friends and old lovers alike as they pass through her apartment looking for her's and her husband's help. This modern interpretation makes the story incredibly powerful, captivating, riveting, and - where appropriate - funny. Despite running at 2 hours and 40 minutes, it was a play that had so much going for it that I didn't once think to myself "how much longer?", a rare feat for a play so long.

Ruth Wilson as Hedda and Rafe Spall as Berte in Ivo Van Hove's production of Hedda Gabler

Naturally, the cast for this production are absolutely fantastic. Ruth Wilson really does live up to that star title she has earned in recent years in one of the most iconic leading female roles around: it's unforgettable. Every step she takes oozes with class and glamour and considering the character is one that tends to think a lot of herself, it works perfectly; Hedda as a character is supposed to be a woman that everyone sees as being transcendent and Wilson is a make-up of those characteristics.

The supporting cast are fantastic as well and this show really is an ensemble effort. Sinead Matthews plays Mrs Elvsted, a woman who was once bullied by Hedda in school but has returned to rekindle the friendship, and her usual charm makes the character much more than a woman swaying in the background. Matthews always has this wonderful ability to turn any sort of dialogue into a speech that you need to listen to and that is certainly at play here. Chukwudi Iwuji also makes a fantastic turn as Mrs Elvsted's true love and one of Hedda's lovers Lovborg. His character is complex and hard to suss out, but Iwuji handles it with precision and care. An additional nod has to go to Eva Magyar who plays Hedda's maid, a woman who doesn't say or do very much in the play at all, but only leaves the stage for about five minutes in total.

Ruth Wilson shines as Hedda Gabler, and Sinead Matthews is a fantastic Mrs Elvsted, too.

As it is with a lot of Ivo Van Hove's brilliant work, the care taken to construct a stunning visual is always important to him and Hedda Gabler is no exception. Jan Versweyveld designs the set and lighting for the play (as he always does, being a constant collaborator with his husband Hove) and the spectacle of it all is extraordinary. It blows my mind that he manages to always create sets that are so incredibly minimal yet they still manage to tell so much story and be such a spectacle. It echos the kind of colour palette he used for Lazarus but also reminds me of how their production of A View From The Bridge a few years ago managed to be essentially nothing at all, yet absolutely everything. If you haven't seen their work at play yet then this is a great place to start.

Your problems always catch up with you: Ruth Wilson and Rafe Spall in Hedda Gabler

Every element of Ivo Van Hove's Hedda Gabler is perfect be it his direction, his husband Jan's design, Ruth Wilson's star turn, or Patrick Marber's new script. It's a rare play that is worthy of its hype and critical acclaim and it's a play we'll all be talking about for many years to come.

Hedda Gabler continues its sold out run at the National Theatre, Lyttelton through March 21st. You can try the £20 Friday rush for tickets, or check local listings for the show's NTLive screening on March 9th right here.

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