In the last couple of years Sheridan Smith has certainly been busy – with recent roles on screen in Accused, The Scapegoat, Mrs Biggs and the film Tower Block as well as frequent appearances on the stage. She now takes on the title role in the Old Vic‘s Hedda Gabler. Ably supported by a great ensemble cast including Adrian Scarborough, Fenella Woolgar and Anne Reid, Smith’s captivating performance as Hedda demonstrates why she’s the actress of the moment. Her Hedda is cruel and vindictive but also unhappy, desperate and trapped – a woman desperately searching for some control in her life. Sheridan brings likeability to a character that could have been totally unsympathetic.
While throughout the play Hedda resorts to scheming and manipulation, this is the only way that she can hope to influence her life and those around her. The great tragedy of Hedda’s story is that in trying to make an impact, and to gain some control over her life, she fails and instead increases her suppression. As she falls to the mercy of the judge her only remaining option to take control of her destiny seems to be in taking her own life.
Hedda is smothered by society’s expectations of her; that her fulfilment in life should come from loving her husband and bearing his children. Her husband seems unaware of her own wishes, as demonstrated by his reaction to her announcement that she is pregnant. Sally Ledger’s interesting programme article explores the contemporary importance of Ibsen’s play in identifying the restrictions imposed by late-nineteenth-century bourgeois society. She points out that although the play was taken up by feminists as defining the unfair expectations of women Ibsen himself believed that the constrictive nature of society was actually a “problem of humanity in general”. Whether as a statement about the position of women of or on society in general, Ibsen’s Hedda Gabler certainly poses thought-provoking questions about the restrictive nature of society.