While Andrew Upton’s adaptation of Hedda Gabler is commendably fierce and brash, the extended silences that director Robyn Nevin pointedly inserts are almost more eloquent. During one of these wordless longueurs, the ambitious academic Jurgen Tesman (Weigh) feverishly scans a rival’s new book; the calculating Judge Brack (Weaving) snaps his fingers restlessly; and the desperately bored lady of the house, Hedda (Blanchett), paces the room like a caged beast.
A lioness, to be exact. The singular Blanchett combines the feral intensity of a killer cat and the regal bearing of a queen: She’s jungle and court in one lissome package and the role of Ibsen’s doomed, near-villainous housewife suits her perfectly. This isn’t simply a case of lucky celebrity casting; the other actors and overall production (from Australia’s Sydney Theatre Company) are exceedingly well-tuned and sensitively staged on Fiona Crombie’s cold, expansive set, which combines late-19th-century elegance and the bourgeois dullness that drives Hedda to extremes of emotional manipulation and violence.
In fact, this is the most brutal portrayal of Ibsen’s gun-toting heroine you’re likely to see. Blanchett’s Hedda, pained and visibly repulsed by the sight of her husband and her staid, middle-class prison, takes every opportunity to tear protective covers off furniture, hiss intimidatingly at her maid and manhandle a meek neighbor, Mrs. Elvsted. This is Hedda Gabler as schoolyard bully. She’s only matched—and over-powered—by Weaving’s sly, understated Judge Brack, the bigger and meaner cat. Blanchett pulls no punches, and neither does this passionate, uncommonly lively revival.—David Cote