I love a press night. Okay, so I’ve only been to two before (The Railway Children and The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time) because getting to London after work is a nightmare, but I love the glitz and glamour of an ATG members room. On Tuesday I was invited to the press night for Hedda Gabler at Milton Keynes theatre, and jumped at the chance to see this sold-out National Theatre production on tour during its final few weeks.
Hedda Gabler (Lizzy Watts) is the tale of a woman new to a flat, new to a marriage, and new to the world of being an academic’s wife. Nothing about the flat belongs to the newlyweds, but it serves a purpose. At least until her new husband is made professor and they can fill it with their own artefacts.
We quickly learn that Hedda had no real desire to get married. In fact, she didn’t really love the man she said her vows to just six months before the play begins, and is referred to almost solely by her maiden name. She married beacuse it was time, and she settled. Although it’s obvious that she’s still interested in living the bachelorette life.
Hedda is a game player. She plays with new friends, and her many lovers. She knows she can have any man she chooses, and she has fun with it. But it doesnt mean that these men don’t play back. In the end, her games result in her demise, but at the hands of which man? Her new husband, Tesman (Abhin Galeya), her ex lover, Lovborg (Richard Pyros), or her new favourite flirt, Brack (Adam Best)?
Our leading lady is sarcastic, she’s witty and she knows what she wants. But that doesn’t mean she can have it. Leaving the stage just once during the entire performance (she’s even present at the end of the first act and at the beginning on the second), she’s stuck. Despite being trapped in the sole room in which the play is set, Watts’ Hedda fills the space and commands attention. This act of entrapment is a personification of the head space Hedda is in. Has she made a mistake getting herself into this situation which she now can’t get out of?
This particular production is periodless. It could easily be set in the 19th century, when the play was written, or it could be a present day situation. Without the video intercom, this could easily be placed in the early 20th century, as opposed to the present, the early 21st.
Whilst I didn’t get the chance to see this version of Hedda Gabler during its initial London run, I truly got a feel for what Ivo van Hove wanted the audience to feel. Hedda’s physical track remains the same, but I undestand that Watts plays a softer Hedda; a warmer Hedda; more likeable Hedda than Ruth Wilson’s portrayal of the role just months earlier. Hedda isn’t a dislikeable character, but it’s easy to see why certain interpretations of the role would lead you down the track of distaste. I personally couldn’t decide whether I liked her, although her dry humour will sit well with British audiences. I’m not one for game playing, which made warming to her a little harder than warming to the likes of her rival, Mrs Elvsted (Annabel Bates). But a personal connection is made nontheless, and you will leave the auditorium with strong feelings about this world famous character.
This is my first introduction to the world of Henrik Ibsen, and I’m definitely interested to investigate him a little further. Hedda Gabler is a difficult story to swallow (and takes some real fine tuning to get right), but I’ll be looking more into the history of the play over the coming weeks.
Hedda Gabler is running at Milton Keynes Theatre until Saturday 3rd March. This is the penultimate stop on the tour so you need to get in there quick if you want to catch this National Theatre production.