You know how I got the chance to see Hedda Gabler earlier in the week? Well this little blogger was invited by the lovely folks at Milton Keynes Theatre to meet with Sian Wiggins, the company manager for the Hedda Gabler tour, to get a taste of what the show means to her, and what it’s like behind the scenes.
Hedda Gabler was written by Norwegian playwright Henrik Isban in the late 1800s, with its debut taking place in Germany in 1891. In this new National Theatre production, Patrick Marber has written a literal translation of this well-loved classic, and it has been directed by Tony and Olivier award winning director, Ivo van Hove.
Over 100 years later, this play is still relevant. Hedda is often described as a female Hamlet, being a key leading role in the world of theatre, yet she’s stuck conforming to society. She felt she must marry, a structure women in society still follow, and becomes trapped. With all them cast exiting through the auditorium, Hedda is trapped. She begins both acts on stage, and she is the final cast member on stage. She leaves just once, with every other character leaving regularly (other than the maid). She is trapped, with just one window (strategically playing the sole natural light source in the production, illuminated by 20 kilowatts of lights) being her connection to the outside. Whilst the set remains the same style as that of the original National Theatre production, it’s been completely rebuilt. The concrete slabs aren’t practical to move about so the set is paint to look like concrete and plasterboard. But one very exciting set piece is the real fire that sits towards the rear of the stage. With Storm Emma during the week, I could’ve done with standing next to it!
There are so many tiny details to the set including having over 100 stems of real flowers in each show and missing hammers from the piano (the only piece in the room staging that belongs to Hedda, as opposed to being left by the previous owner). Learning the ins and outs of the set is something you never get the chance to do, and I was seriously wowed by the detail in such a simplistic looking scene.
Away from the production itself, what is the typical daily life of a company manager? On the first day at a new venue (which, depending on the size and length of the tour in question, can be up to as many as 20 times over the touring period), Siam arrives at around 9/10am, by which time the touring technical crew will be building the set alongside the theatre’s in house team. After the set is complete, a full technical rehearsal takes paces. Lighting and sound is tested, and everything is given a polish. Around 6:30pm, ready for a 7:30pm curtain, the cast warm up and then it’s show time.
And what about on a regular performance day? Well, it’s just a normal management role. Okay, so it’s a management role in the arts but it’s still management. Feeding back information to head office (although I bet in your job, you don’t have to talk about bums on seats, and how this week’s snow storm affected performance attendance), payroll and petty cash. She’s Mum and headmistress all into one, regardless on the average age of the cast.
Thank you so much to Sian from the Hedda Gabler team, and to Milton Keynes Theatre for the insight into the behind the scenes of the touring production of Hedda Gabler. I’m a really nosy person, so I love seeing what’s going on behind the scenes and had the best time. The production ends this week, so you need to get booking your tickets!