Hedda – a heroine for our time

YOU may have heard of Henrik Ibsen, but did you know that he is the second most-performed playwright in the world – second only to William Shakespeare?

The Norwegian wrote more than 25 plays and has been hailed as a man whose writing was well before its time.

Annabel Bates (Mrs Elvsted) and Lizzy Watts (Hedda Gabler)

Now, there’s a chance to see one of Ibsen’s most famous creations, Hedda Gabler, often called “the female Hamlet’’, in Woking. Although written in 1891, she is said to be a heroine for our time, especially in the latest production from the National Theatre, which arrives at the New Victoria Theatre, Woking, this month.

For the uninitiated, Hedda Gabler is newly married and she’s already bored having just returned from her honeymoon with Tesman. She is fiercely independent but doesn’t have the confidence to live an independent life so finds herself trapped in both her relationship and her home.

“She’s terrified by the outside world but she also wants to be free in the way that only a man is free in this society,” says Lizzy Watts, who plays the pivotal role.

The play unfolds around a morning after the night before type situation which sees Hedda’s world unravel around her and Lizzy adds: “I’d like people to be pleasantly surprised by this family drama that does not seem to be a million miles away from their own lives.”

Director Ivo Van Hove says the themes of Hedda Gabler will resonate with today’s audiences and he has set it in the modern day in an anonymous loft apartment – but says it’s important to think about the time when Ibsen was writing.

“To have written the play about a woman at the end of the 19th century is amazing, even today it’s amazing to have such a leading character,” he says. “Hedda has all these demonic forces, she can be really harsh, she is merciless, she doesn’t have a lot of empathy with everybody, she’s not loveable.

“She is not an easy victim that you feel empathy for. ‘Oh the poor woman’, you don’t feel like that. At the same time, she’s not one-dimensionally harsh. Deep down what the actor playing her has to discover is this vulnerable spot, this fragility that is in her, but which she never, almost never, shows.”

Van Hove also rejects the idea of Hedda as a feminist icon, saying: “When you read the play very carefully that’s really clear to me. Hedda is trapped, but there are possibilities. There are escape possibilities.

“You see somebody who has this emptiness in her, who seems to have no fantasy. She is just stuck in her addiction to luxury, to having a so-called ‘good life’ for the outside world. She is trapped in herself.

“It’s not a marriage that traps her because it’s a marriage of convenience. She knows it and Tesman knows it. It’s not that Tesman has hijacked her. It’s an agreement between the two of them. It’s an agreement to have a life for the outside world, to be so-called happy.

“Hedda is the prison of herself, of her own incapacity. She is incapable of really changing her life yet she has all the opportunities to do that.”

The National Theatre’s production of Hedda Gabler runs at the New Victoria Theatre, Woking, from Monday 29 January until Saturday 3 February.

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