Review: Her Father’s Daughter

Ibsen’s 19th-century classic Hedda Gabler is resurrected thanks to playwright Keziah Warner

By Owen James

“If not Now, when?” asks the mission statement of Melbourne company Hotel Now, a question that seems especially relevant to their latest work, Her Father’s Daughter. Keziah Warner’s modern-day adaptation of Hedda Gabler shows that these themes and characters are as relevant today as ever, ensuring that every moment of the chaotic story is believable and beautifully complex. Together with direction from Cathy Hunt, the still-thriving patriarchy of the 21st century and Hedda’s own unique propensity for destruction bring about emotional and physical chaos.

Cait Spiker as manipulative and destructive Hedda Gabler seems born to play this role, filling our ongoing need for strong female characters in theatre. Her Hedda is unsettling in gleeful deceit, guaranteeing our mouths open in both laughter and shock over the course of the story. Spiker clearly thrives on Hedda’s determination, strength and psychotic intensity.

Tim Wotherspoon’s credulous George Tesman is a pure delight to watch, his boundless energy adding colour to the text and movement to the play. Honest George is unsure what to make of intelligent – and therefore threatening – reformed alcoholic Eli Lovman who’s portrayed with a strong performance from Luke Mulquiney. Laila Thaker and Fabio Motta as Thea Elvsted and Brack respectively shine in roles suited perfectly to them. Together with Verity Higgins as Aunt Julie, this ensemble of six are sensational, bringing out both the comedy and drama in every scene.

We move from room to room in the Prahan Council Chambers with looming painted men of the past staring down at the action in the courtroom and corridors, keenly judging every step self-righteous Hedda takes; their faces seem unimpressed by her self-empowerment. This historical presence makes it the perfect venue for this piece, and changing locations helps refresh our interest physically and visually – especially given the almost two-hour running time sans interval. Lighting from Megz Evans is simple and sometimes fluorescent, often not afraid of including the audience in the setting – we are flies on the wall. Sound from Jess Keeffe is powerful, evocative and modern.

Fans of the original Hedda Gabler may find no surprises in the plot of this faithful adaptation, but with such an expertly constructed text and phenomenal performances, there is still so much life to be found in Hedda’s story. It’s refreshing, and it’s absolutely a story for “Now”; see a caustic and intemperate woman take control of her stifling and privileged circumstances. See her conquer honesty and those around her to prove that the oppressed woman can forge her own reality as she sees fit. I really loved this show and highly recommend everyone experience such a refreshing drama.

Her Father’s Daughter runs at Prahan Council Chambers until 3 June.  Tickets can be purchased online.

Photograph by Theresa Harrison