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  • Flora Gosling

Review: Hedda Gabler (Bard in the Botanics)

Updated: Jul 3

Nicole Cooper shines as Hedda


Nothing proves a point about women’s “infinite variety” like opening your season with Jane Eyre and Hedda Gabler. The theme for this year’s Bard in the Botanics season, inspired by a line from Shakespeare’s Antony and Cleopatra, focuses on women’s stories and particularly on women’s complexity. So what better than one protagonist who can’t imagine a life with money, one who can’t imagine life without it; one who will always win over audiences, one who will always divide them? The only thing they have in common is that they are never bloody satisfied. In Kathy McKean’s adaptation of the Ibsen classic, that barely-likability is exactly what she wants to explore. In her introduction in the programme she offers a checklist titled “Hedda Gabler is (tick all that apply):”, with wildly varying options like “an inspiration”, “a coward”, “a sexual neurotic” and “a feminist”.


That complexity demands a commanding performance, and Nicole Cooper truly delivers in the role. She is a bully and a madwoman, behaving like a scratching cat that needs to be let outside. When she stirs the pot it is more than play, it is like a biological necessity. The first time we see her alone she breathes out as though about to cry, composing herself just before company returns. You feel terribly sorry for her, but worse for everyone who has to put up with her. The mismatch between her and George, played by Sam Stopford, is delightfully evident. He is so kind and cheerful in the first scene between him and his charming aunt (Isabelle Joss) that one can’t help but resent Hedda for souring the mood when she enters. Graham MacKay-Bruce plays Eilit Lovborg, and although he is suitably distressed when the play calls for it his performance is slightly one-note compared to his co-stars.


Photo Credit: Tommy Ka-Ken Wan


Even so, he still fits McKean and director Gordon Barr’s vision for the play. The tension they create is razor-sharp, each character believes they are right and reasonable, so much so you could believe each actor believes they are playing the best character in the play. They all work together in perfect harmony. The only real disappointment of the performance is that both of the big moments of the play – the burning of the manuscript and Hedda’s death – are bodged by the staging. The burning happens in the odd corner of the space, where most audiences have to crane their necks just to realise it is meant to be a fireplace. Following the off-stage gunshot and George announcing her death, the stunned silence somehow lacks weight. We are left with something of a “what now?” atmosphere, which perhaps was the intention since Hedda was far from universally liked, but after such amazing tension it is something of an anticlimax.


Even so, this is a production of the classic play that deserves to be seen by everyone – both fans of the play and those who have never seen it before. It makes the most of the source material without straying too far from it and yet they make it their own in small ways. Most importantly, the more people who can see Cooper’s performance the better. It is the calibre that you expect to see projected on screens across the country from the likes of David Tennant and Jodie Comer but instead is available to the privileged few who can fit in Glasgow’s Kibble Palace. How lucky are we? Four stars.


Whispers from the Crowd: "Brilliant! There was great strength in all the performances. Nicole Cooper was fantastic, shame it was such a small audience."

Hedda Gabler will play at the Kibble Palace until the 6th of July


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