In a silent prologue, the general’s daughter stares forlornly out of the huge windows of the lovely (and overly expensive) home he thought she wanted, trapped in a glass cage of boredom where nothing pleases her – not least her inordinately proud and puppyish husband (Adrian Scarborough) who’s still tied by the apron strings to his aging Aunt Juliana.
Sheridan Smith’s Hedda indulges in teasing banter with Darrell D’Silva’s Judge Brack (a sleek, silver-haired predator intent on adding her to his conquests) but there’s also a dangerously manipulative creature at work behind her masklike smile.
It’s no surprise to learn that she was a hair-pulling bully at school who tormented Fenella Woolgar’s nervously defiant Thea, who, it transpires, is now unexpectedly linked to Tesman’s debauched but brilliant academic rival.
Faced with a future of relentless tedium, Hedda’s destructive instincts resurface – initially in spiteful insults, then growing into something far more tragic.
Anna Mackmin’s production does full justice to the unexpected humour in Brian Friel’s lively, frequently anachronistic version of Ibsen’s domestic drama and (having scored an award-winning hit in Legally Blonde) Smith, tiny, dissatisfied and with a fatally malevolent streak, proves that she’s every bit as capable of playing 19th century nasty as 21st century nice.
Old Vic, The Cut, SE1 8NB
Tube | Waterloo
Until 10th November
Photo: Johan Persson