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Saturday, 1 March 2008

Hedda Gabler

The work of German director Thomas Ostermeier has long been on the radar of Eyewear - no other European theatre company seems so au courant, and yet thrillingly-engaged with the classical, as his. Hedda Gabler (seen at the Barbican last night, and reviewed in rather lukewarm fashion for instance here by the British press) was simply a pleasure, for 120 minutes or so.

The production highlights the way that film can be looped back to bleed mood and texture to theatre, and generate a hyper-real, if cinematic, event. Gabbler, as superbly played by Ms. Schüttler, is a sly, restless, bored boyish coquette with great legs, stylish sailor outfit, and a deranged sense of being and nothingness.

Ibsen, the master builder who created her in 1890 (that is, 118 years ago) must be credited with outdoing Freud, let alone Film Noir (thus, out-Tarantinoing Tarantino), in conceiving of the Ur-femme fatale. Girl Plays With Guns, Girl Points Gun At Man, Girl Gives Gun To Man, Girl Blows Her Brains Out could be the four-act structure.

By slivering this down to six characters, with five central performances (and several permutations of triangle) the new version, updating manuscripts to text on laptops, and set in a modern "Koenig House", is about as eerily shallow, shimmering and chlorinated as an Easton Ellis pool - in fact, the less-than-zero logic of the look should have actually set the play in Los Angeles (Hedda as Britney) - for her chilling absence of ultimate purpose (if not design) is somewhat perplexing. If anything, this would have explained the Beach Boys Pet Sounds soundtrack, if not the September rain glistening like radiant loss, or desire, on the great picture windows overlooking total darkness, even during the "day".

What does come across, brilliantly, is how deviant, cruel, and playful she is, in her many manipulations - outdoing Briony of Atonement in a second - Gabler toys with pistols, sex, and The Future (as an academic and actual subject). She writes her own book of destiny - one that makes self-destruction "beautiful" - as she summons the total courage to make her own murder a grand project that removes her from the sex, and society, of those who merely want to create, or possess, or know.

Gabler will always be both an enigma (she is unknowable, as Lear is, in her negations), and a symbol - the negation of the negation - an Hegelian angel, slumming in the lap of store-bought luxury - wanting what is on the other side of night, the screen, glass - The Real. Her terrible energy and supple erotic dalliance with murder and existence makes her a vitally 20th century fox - hunting for something Ibsen could never find. This new production suggests she will run long into our century - lost in its own Digital Decor and Dullness - sadly, madly, too.
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