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Stage Preview: Hedda Gabler

Just married, and yet Hedda longs for freedom already. Hedda and Tesman have just returned from their honeymoon and their troubles commence. Trapped but determined, Hedda tries to control those around her, but to what consequence?

Ibsen’s famous play, Hedda Gabler, visits on a much anticipated tour to The Lowry after a sold out run at London’s National Theatre. This new adaptation by award-winning Patrick Marber is directed by the talented Ivo van Hove. Without giving away too many spoilers, what follows are some reflections from the director of Hedda Gabler about the significance of the play today, and why it appeals to a contemporary audience.

In an interview with director Ivo van Hove by Kate Moore (Producer – National Theatre Live and Broadcast), Ivo van Hove argues Ibsen’s Hedda Gabler is almost an autobiographical masterpiece:

“Well there are a few masterpieces in the world of the theatre and I think this is really Ibsen’s masterpiece. But more than that, it’s also a very personal play. It was written when Ibsen was quite old, ten years after A Doll’s House, and you feel that there is a real urgency for him to write this. And it’s very awkward because this character of Hedda is not so sympathetic, actually. She’s not someone that you can empathise with immediately. I believe it’s actually a portrait of himself. He had an urgency to tell a story about somebody who feels totally isolated from relationships, from the world”.

Ivo van Hove elaborates upon the significance of the play for the contemporary audience and the modern moment:

“I read Hedda Gabler now, more than a hundred years after it was written. We live in the twenty-first century, not in the nineteenth-century, so for me it doesn’t make sense really to make a play a historical play, a museum piece about the past. I feel always as a theatre director an obligation to talk about people, humans, themes that matter today, not things that mattered in the past. With Hedda Gabler, I don’t think that Ibsen really dealt with an important theme but more with a condition of human beings and a condition of a society. So I began by writing a little note, some thoughts written down about the play. I put a title above it: Sign of the Times. And that’s what I feel, that Hedda Gabler today is about giving audiences a sign of our times, of the emotional emptiness that we have to deal with; of not really being able to make a change, even when we want it, even when we have every possibility to do exactly that. Sometimes there is an inhibition in ourselves and we don’t know why”.

Hedda Gabler_Credit Ellie Kurttz

The director also reveals more about decisions behind the new adaptation:

“Well, what we wanted to do is to get out of the nineteenth century, so we situated the play in a loft, in a big city. It could be London, it could be Shanghai, wherever. And this loft is kind of empty. There is a couch that Hedda and Tesman clearly didn’t buy themselves because it’s the kind of thing that was a leftover from people who have lived there. Is this loft under construction or is it being destroyed? There are no doors within that loft, so people get in and out from the auditorium and there’s no escape for Hedda. But there’s also no mental escape. Everybody comes in and out, so she can also go in and out, but she doesn’t. She stays in the home. There’s also a window, but that window gives onto nothing. There’s not a nice landscape behind it, just blackness, darkness.

Light and darkness is a very important thing. It’s also in the script. It’s beautiful that she says ‘I don’t want to see the light’. I think that’s almost her first line. She feels like being caught in darkness and there’s only one thing that she really loves and that’s her piano. She is totally connected to this old piano. The fact that Ibsen described that there’s an old piano, like something useless, not sounding very good. She’s hooked to that piano. She’s stuck in something, she’s not able to move on. Clinging on to things that are the past, that are gone and not able to step into the future.”

Hedda Gabler is showing from Tue 31 October to Sat 4 November at The Lowry.

Inset photo: Lizzy Watts as Hedda Gabler – credit Ellie Kurttz

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