Review: Heather Gardner

rep 13 heather 2

The Old Rep/Station Street, Birmingham

from Richard Lutz

The idea is simple: take Ibsen’s Hedda Gabler, rename it Heather Gardner  and slap it down in the pre- Beatles  ’60s Birmingham.

Elisabeth Hopper is the self -absorbed neurotic centre of this play produced by the wandering  Birmingham Rep Theatre , always trying to get her own way with a boring husband, a boring life and the sudden entrance of an old flame.

Ibsen’s original is more than a century old now so some of the techniques creak a bit  and wanders close to  melodrama. But playwright Robin French throws in plenty of allusions to The Bullring, walking down posh Harborne High Street and upscaling to Edgbaston to raise a smile in a dark play and give it local  resonance.

Ms Hopper is outstanding as the edgy selfish  eponymous Heather and when she flashes a pistol around  early in the play (and if you don’t remember your Ibsen) you just know a bullet or two is going to end somewhere fatal.

There’s strong support from Sean Hart as the dipso former lover Alec Lambart out to change the world if he controls himself;  from Maisie Turpie as the innocent Dorothy Edwards   out to selflessly save Lambert   and James Bradshaw as Heather’s  nerdy academic  husband George playing fast, loose and funny  with the Brummie accent.

One question, of course,  always raises its head in Hedda Gabler. And the same question applies to Heather Gardner: with such a rich vein of roles, who do you sympathise with as the world closes in on the heroine?

Ms Hopper’s nuances make her the most volatile character. But also the most intriguing and vulnerable- and so the heart does stay with her and  her problems.  Plus,  she gets to deck herself out in some great Mad Men clothes as she proceeds to ruin herself and those around her.

The middle class claustrophobia is caught well by designer Jamie Vartan, despite  the Old Rep’s fusty ambience. Surely, the production  team at The Birmingham Rep itself can’t wait until they get back to their  restored old haunts in September.

Tix: 0121 236 4455/ until 28 March