The Royal Lyceum, Edinburgh stages Ibsen’s play, Hedda Gabler, the voice of the 19th century New Woman: a preview
Directed by Amanda Gaughan, this is her first show as Associate Artist with the company. Last year she worked with Laurie Sansom on the successful NTS trilogy, The James Plays staged at the Edinburgh International Festival and the NT, London.
The 19th century Norwegian poet and playwright, Henrik Ibsen became, perhaps unwittingly, a forward-thinking Feminist, pursuing the rights for equality in a series of realistic social dramas. Set in small town conservative communities, he highlighted the private lives of women within family relationships and wider patriarchal society.
In A Doll’s House, his brave heroine Nora struggles against convention to break free from the constraints of her marriage and motherhood, a sensational subject to be dramatised at the time. Developing the theme further in Hedda Gabler (1890), he observes what he sees as the inevitable violation of a woman’s personality under the control of a husband.
It is thanks to the Scottish theatre critic, William Archer * who first introduced Ibsen’s plays to the British theatre. In his English translation of Hedda Gabler, (1891), he quotes from a letter by Ibsen on the creation of Hedda, a modern woman of independent mind.
“The title of the play is Hedda Gabler. My intention in giving it this name was to indicate that Hedda, as a personality, is to be regarded rather as her father’s daughter than as her husband’s wife. What I principally wanted to do was to depict human beings, human emotions, and human destinies, upon a groundwork of the social conditions of the present day.”
Hedda is the daughter of the wealthy, aristocratic General Gabler who enjoyed a privileged childhood. As the play begins, she has just returned from her honeymoon with her husband, Jürgen Tesman, an academic and writer. Hedda is an intelligent, somewhat unpredictable young woman. who is not afraid to manipulate her husband and friends in the pursuit of her own personal ambitions and beliefs.
Amanda Gaughan first worked on the play while studying at the Royal Scottish Conservatoire in 2007, and is fascinated by Ibsen’s feisty character:
“Hedda is considered to be one of the greatest female roles in theatre as she attempts to exert control and influence in a male dominated world which ultimately leads to the destruction of everyone and everything around her. We have real people who exist within a domestic situation and over the course of the 36 hours of the play struggle to deal with life and death situations.”
This new production retains the original period setting, 1890s in Christiania, Norway, adapted with a contemporary text by Richard Eyre. Nicola Daley plays the title role with Lewis Hart as Tesman, Jade Willams as Thea, Jack Tarlton as Loevberg and Benny Young as Judge Brack in the cast.
Hedda Gabler was written as an astute, intimate portrait of the social mores and manners of marriage at the time of women’s fight for emancipation – the New Woman. Given the recurring equality issues on women’s place at work and at home, Ibsen’s powerful punch of a play is as contemporary today as it was viewed by audiences in 1890. Timely and topical for 125 years.
“Oh courage…oh yes! If only one had that…Then life might be liveable, in spite of everything” Hedda Gabler
Hedda Gabler runs at the Royal Lyceum Theatre, Edinburgh, 20 March -1 April, 2015.
Note: William Archer was born in Perth in 1856 and after studying at Edinburgh University, became a leader-writer on the Edinburgh Evening News. He moved to London as dramatic critic of the London Figaro and later of the World, a prominent literary figure and lifelong friend of George Bernard Shaw. He was the first English language translator and an entrepreneurial theatre producer of Ibsen’s plays in the 1880s – 1890s.