Hedda Gabler at Highbury Theatre, November 8 to 19Four stars
MANIPULATIVE housewife Hedda Tesman (Faye Hatch) is a woman suffocated by Victorian values and trapped in a loveless marriage with a dull, dull man.
Once the talk of the town, now Heddas only solace is found in controlling and bullying others for her own entertainment.
The audience at first share Heddas frustration at her socially awkward husband Jorgen (Lee Davies). But any sympathy soon disappears as Hedda reveals how bitter and malicious she is, with the delight she takes in terrifying and torturing sweet Mrs Elvsted (Marion Pritchett), repeating her childhood threats to burn off her former schoolmates hair which sends a shiver down the spine.
Fussing aunt Julia Tesman (Barbara Garrett) serves only to highlight Heddas flaws with her own generosity of affection which angers and frustrates Hedda even further.
The vicious housewifes life gains the excitement she craves when her former lover Ejlert Loevborg (Robert Laird), arrives with a manuscript which could derail her Jorgens career ambitions.
But when she feels her power over Ejlert begin to diminish she chooses to destroy his beloved child, his manuscript, sending the recovering alcoholic to what she imagines is a fitting end.
Hedda is filled with disgust at losing control over her body by becoming pregnant to the husband she cannot stand but it is when the sinister Judge Brack (Richard Irons) attempts to blackmail her, it finally becomes too much to bear.
Hatch easily stole the show as Hedda, all the more impressive as she only took the role three weeks ago after the former leading lady withdrew.
A difficult character to love as she spurns love and affection for control, Hatchs Hedda with her haughty indifference and sly cruelty turned her into a true villain.
Ian Applebys version of Henrik Ibsens play is not for the faint hearted but a strong cast meant its dark themes are carried well and makes compelling if tense viewing.