Hedda Gabler by Henrik Ibsen, in a version by Brian Friel

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Saturday Drama on BBC Radio 4

BBC Radio 4, 9 March 2013
First produced at London's Old Vic Theatre, Psyche Stott's production created a brittle world in which power mattered: what was said was not so important, but what the characters meant to say mattered more.  Hedda Gabler (Sheridan Smith) seemed to understand the rules of the game in her world, and seemed especially good at playing it, being able to manage her husband George Tesman (Adrian Scarborough) as well as cope with her suitors Eilert Lovborg (Daniel Lapaine) and Judge Brack (Darrell D'Silva).
As the action unfolded, however, so Hedda's weaknesses were gradually exposed.  On the surface she seemed to remain in control of the situation, but circumstances gradually worked against her - especially where Eilert was concerned.  She liked to sustain a fantasy-world, with Eilert as a poet with vine-leaves in his hair; but gradually that world collapsed, and Judge Brack appeared to want to take advantage of it.  It seemed that he held the cards to exploit Hedda's life; but perhaps there was a sting in the tale ...
Stott's production conjured up a small, self-enclosed world in which the protagonists were all out to exploit one another - not necessarily to acquire power, but rather as a means of proving themselves, both emotionally and socially.  None of the characters were actually pleasant; they all seemed to be out to exploit one another. This made for an uncomfortable listening experience, in which we were always looking for the subtext beneath the dialogue: what did the characters really mean when they talked to one another?
Brian Friel has been described as a Chekhovian writer; if that adjective describes his capacity to highlight the emotional force beneath the brittle surface of polite pleasantries, then I'd heartily agree with it.  This production was an uncomfortable aural experience, but one I'd not have missed for the world.