Following the huge success of Calendar Girls, the next production from the Thespians strikes an altogether different note. Hedda Gabler by Henrik Ibsen is a tense, brooding, and gripping tale, a classic that has been performed consistently since it premiered in 1891. It runs from 12-16 March at the Lawrence Batley Theatre.
We caught up with director Derek Smith, and Hannah Head, who plays Hedda, to find out more.
Hannah, the character of Hedda Gabler is widely regarded as one of the great dramatic roles in theatre, and it has been played by many well-known actors, including Maggie Smith, Cate Blanchett, and, most recently, Sheridan Smith. How have you approached playing the part?
Hannah: I’ve never seen a performance of Hedda Gabler, so I’ve no idea how others have approached the role. And that’s really how I prefer it to be – I don’t want to be too much influenced by somebody else’s approach, or indeed daunted at the thought of trying to fill Maggie and Cate’s shoes! Hopefully I can do Hedda justice – I love the character – with a performance which is the result of my own interpretation and the director’s vision. Derek’s enthusiasm for the play has been infectious and I think we’ve gelled as a cast, so that has been hugely beneficial in getting a feel for Hedda’s mindset, with all its complexities. She is in turn manipulative, vulnerable, flirtatious, frustrated – in short, she is a dream to play.
Derek, productions of Hedda Gabler have been given many different interpretations since it premiered in 1891. Could you say something about your vision for the play?
Derek: Any dramatic production has to rely on the clarity of the text to tell the story. It’s important that the intricacies of the plot are outlined and the characters well-defined, so that an audience can feel engaged as the plot develops. We are using one of the first published English translations of Ibsen’s play. The language has a Victorian feel to it and some of the sentence structure seemed a little convoluted to begin with but the cast have mastered that during rehearsals. The plotline is certainly easy to follow and the actors have worked at producing convincing, rounded characters.
Many consider Hedda Gabler to be a ‘heavy’ drama, full of doom, gloom and Norwegian angst. There is certainly a great deal of tension and passion which we have worked on during rehearsals, but the play also has its lighter moments and it is to be hoped that audiences will also find something to laugh (or smile) at during the production.
The action of the play takes place in the drawing room of Hedda and George Tesman’s villa. Playing down in the LBT Cellar gives the production a more intimate setting and the intention is that audiences should feel as if they are in the same room as the characters, perhaps seated on a chair in the corner. This provides a challenge to the cast as they cannot hide on the other side of a proscenium arch! Their reactions need to be real and truthful otherwise an audience won’t be convinced, again an aspect that has been developed during the rehearsal period.
For an actress the role of Hedda is considered to be the equivalent challenge of an actor playing Hamlet. It is certainly an intriguing part and over the years the character has engendered huge discussion among critics, drama students, audiences and actors. There can be no definitive interpretation of such a complex persona. Is Hedda a tragic heroine, caught up in loveless marriage, with nobody to whom she can turn to for support? Or is she a Machiavellian manipulator whose plotting and power games lead deservedly to a path of self-destruction? Come and see the play to judge for yourself.