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Hedda Gabler


I haven't been to the theatre this year. In 2018 I was fortunate enough to venture out several times over the course of the year, with highlights including the Theatre Royal Plymouth's production of "49 Donkeys Hanged" by Carl Grose and the RSC production of "Miss Littlewood" by Sam Kenyon. In addition I saw Erica Whyman's production of "Romeo and Juliet", also at the RSC, which was a definite experience, but a poor adaptation.

As today is World Theatre Day I thought I'd offer a throwback to one of the best pieces of theatre I saw during the last two years; "Hedda Gabler" by Henrik Ibsen, adapted by Patrick Marber, directed by Ivo van Hove and performed at the National Theatre. It goes without saying that Ibsen's play is a masterpiece, but van Hove's modernist direction is intelligent and distinctive. It breaks from the traditional theatrical presentation favoured by many earlier directors to instead create something of a genuine audio-visual experience. It is, and remains, a perfect example of intelligent, forward-thinking theatre-making, which seeks to adapt the play into images, not words.

Hedda Gabler [National Theatre/Ivo van Hove, 2017]:

For instance, I loved how the ruined piano at the centre of the stage became a iconographic, almost conceptual representation of Hedda's own character; a once beautiful thing completely imprisoned and objectified; no longer able to find a proper use for itself; just a shadow of something once able to express and create falling further into decay. The setting, devoid of life, again shows a character held captive by her own circumstances; destroying the space and herself as the play progresses; suggesting something of an obvious symbiosis between the two. Part of what made the production such an experience was the phenomenal performances from Ruth Wilson, Rafe Spall and Chukwudi Iwuji, who each brought an intensity and sense of emotional abandon to their fraught but distinctive character arcs.

At a time when the vast majority of feature-films feel safe, stagnant and steeped in convention, van Hove's production of Hedda Gabler was an example of a work of theatre transcending the limitations of the medium and presenting something that was more immersive, affecting and visually inventive than anything currently playing at the local multiplex or streaming platform. The whole production was unforgettable.

Having always been a film buff exclusively I can't claim to be any kind of expert on theatre, however I did make something of an effort to broaden my experience and understanding of the medium after writing and directing my first play in 2015. Two more plays followed in quick succession, along with an additional directing assignment with a local theatre company in 2016 (which turned out to be a disaster). Nonetheless, this period of activity pushed me towards discovering plays by Federico García Lorca, Philip Ridley, Moira Buffini, Sarah Kane, Martin McDonagh, Harold Pinter, Shelagh Delaney, and other writers that I was already acquainted with but wanted to discover in greater depth; Bertolt Brecht, Samuel Becket, Brendan Behan, Eugène Ionesco, Antonin Artaud. I also became especially inspired by directors like van Hove, Peter Brook, Joan Littlewood, Katie Mitchell and Robert Wilson, who each seems to have advanced the modern theatre and the attitudes towards it to the point that it now dwarfs the comparatively meager accomplishments of the modern cinema.


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