A shot of vodka, a line of coke and a steak on the Barbie is not what immediately comes to mind when you think about Henrik Ibsen’s 1891 classic Hedda Gabler but according to Wentworth star Danielle Cormack it makes perfect sense. Cormack shines in her Queensland theatre debut as Hedda in a modern adaptation by Australian playwright Melissa Bubnic. The adaptation set on the Gold Coast takes the essence of the titular heroine and explores what she would look like in contemporary Australia.
Whenever a theatre company mounts a classic be it Shakespeare, Chekov or in this case Ibsen there is always a debate about relevancy.Cormack admits after having seen a revival of the original text on Broadway in 2009 with Mary-Louise Parker as Hedda, she wasn’t a fan “It was quite stale and the most endearing part was seeing the celebrities playing the roles.” However she is the first to praise this production saying that with the fresh adaptation by Bubnic and under one of her favourite directors Paige Rattray it was hard to say no to this production “When Paige said Melisa was readapting it and that it would be a reimagining of Hedda and contemporised and set on the Gold Coast well that really excites me.”
She was right to be excited. The modern adaptation is funny, tragic and quintessentially Queensland. The Gold Coast is the perfect setting for the play with cashed up bogans and drug dealers taking the place of the aristocracy and academics of the original. Every last detail is perfect the costume and set by designer David Fleischer feel like you have just walked in from Surfer’s Paradise and Emma Valente’s lighting design is simple but effective in creating the sunshine state. But it is director’s Paige Rattray’s vision that pulls this show together
Rattray was not interested in directing a play about a woman with no agency in her life, she’s interested in strong woman who takes control of it. Rattray says what attracted her to Hedda was the fact that unlike so many other heroines of the stage and screen she triumphed despite the men around her rather than because they came to her rescue.She does admit however that the original was tired but thinks the themes of the work are still as relevant as ever. “It was really interesting seeing the things that felt like the most unbelievable were things from the original text.”
The character of Hedda in this adaptation is everything Rattray could want. Cormack creates a three-dimensional character with both positive and negative qualities. The audience fluctuates between hating her and loving her. But it is not just Cormack who shines in her role. Andrea Moore is near unrecognisable in her limited scenes and her presence is felt long after she leaves the stage. Joss McWilliam is stunningly disturbing as the poster child of the #MeToo movement. Jimi Bani and Jason Klarwein manage to capture the many facets of toxic masculinity. All the performances are great but they are all in support of Hedda.
Cormack understands that many of the audience members who come and see Hedda will not be familiar with the original text and that it isn’t necessary to have it. She does admit however it might enhance your enjoyment “So I just urge people to even just Wikipedia it. It will take five minutes but it will really enrich the experience of seeing Hedda…Yes there might be some spoiler alerts in there but it is well worth it.”
For More Check out the audio review with my mother Susan Hetherington here