Wednesday, 20 March 2013

Heather Gardner @ The Old Rep, Tuesday 19th March 2013

Elisabeth Hopper (Heather Desmond)
Photo by Robert Day

In this reboot of Norwegian playwright Henrik Ibsen’s (aka The King of Gloom) acclaimed masterpiece Hedda Gabler Birmingham’s very own Robin French transports its heroine to Edgbaston in the early 1960s.
In this setting the play’s the story of a socialite, Heather Gardner, returning from her honeymoon to her dream home and, supposedly, dream life. Sadly (sadder still for the poor sap she married) she feels little affection for her new hubby and zero gratitude for the cushy life that she now finds herself living.

Elisabeth Hopper (Heather Desmond)
Photo by Robert Day

Keen to spice things up a little she decides to meddle in the lives of others, notably an ex squeeze and rival to her husband (a lecturer at Birmingham Uni) with...well, you’ll just have to go and see it to find out the consequences, but it ain’t pretty.
French has done a fine job in dragging the play from its original 1890s setting twisting and shouting into the 1960s, liberally scattering crowd pleasing Brummie references throughout the piece (yep, even Bearwood gets a few mentions...hurrah!).

Elisabeth Hopper (Heather Desmond) and Sean Hart (Alex Lambart)
Photo by Robert Day

Despite the bleakness of the play’s climax there are plenty of gentle chuckles to be had too with James Bradshaw in fine form as Heather’s charmingly nerdy husband, George. Heather herself is played with just the right hint of simmering insanity and disdain by Elisabeth Hopper whilst Christopher Ettridge (best known as PC Reg Deadman in Goodnight Sweetheart) channels his inner Patrick Stewart rather splendidly as the louche Peregrine Brand.

Anyone who might be put off by the prospect of an adaptation of a Norwegian playwright’s work can relax, this is an incredibly accessible version that can be enjoyed on two levels. On the one hand there’s enough humour and duplicity to keep soap fans entertained for 90 minutes on the other the play retains enough of its original DNA to give the deeper thinkers out there something to mull over...mental illness, sexual politics, existentialism...the perils of Balsall Heath...

Heather Gardner is on at The Old Rep until 28th March 2013 with tickets from as little as £8.

PS: If you’ve not been to The Old Rep for a while this is the perfect chance to visit too as it’s celebrating its centenary this year. It’s a lovely little theatre, simple and intimate but with a touch of elegance that its big sister will find hard to match...

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