I don’t know anyone who doesn’t enjoy going to the theatre. Whether it’s a show you’ve seen multiple times or a brand new one, there’s always such a sense of excitement: going into the theatre, finding your seat and waiting for the lights to dim and the show to start. You can imagine how thrilled I was to receive an email from Milton Keynes theatre inviting me to watch Hedda Gabler on its UK and Ireland tour. Not only that, but I would get to take part in a behind the scene tour with Company Manager, Sian Wiggins.
To be perfectly honest, I’d never heard of Hedda Gabler before but I soon found out that it was originally a play written by Norwegian playwright, Henrik Ibsen. The play we would be seeing, however, was actually a modern take on the story by Patrick Marber and directed by Ivo van Hove.
To give you a brief (spoiler-free) overview of the plot in case you don’t already know: beautiful, free-spirited, Hedda and her husband Tesman return from their long honeymoon to their new home which they can barely afford to furnish. Hedda is bored. She was bored on her honeymoon while academic Tesman spent time working and is she even more bored now she has returned to her new bourgeois life. “Why did you marry him?” one character, Brack, asks. “I felt old”, replies Hedda tellingly. Trapped and repressed, Hedda tries to manipulate those around her but to her own detriment.
I couldn’t work out how I felt about Hedda. As a character, she is rude and self-centred but at the same time, clever and witty. She is also as entirely relevant for today’s audiences as she was back when the play was first performed in 1891. The issues of conformity and social pressures that Hedda experiences in the play, I think you’ll agree are still very much present today for a lot of women. And interestingly, even in this day and age, there are very rarely plays which write such strong roles for women.
I’ll be honest that it’s big musicals that Matt and I tend to watch when we head to the theatre. All singing and dancing productions with big casts, huge sets and special effects. Hedda Gabler was the complete opposite. The set is an open box – minimalistic and sparse. We learnt a lot about the set in our behind the scenes tour with Sian which really helped me understand the play on another level. “The set itself isn’t naturalistic; we are seeing it through Hedda’s eyes. You’re seeing it through the filter of Hedda,” Sian told us. During the second part of the show, Hedda’s feeling of claustrophobia and how trapped she feels in her life is really heightened by things that are changed within the set and the lighting. There is even visible lighting that isn’t even plugged in – simply there to represent Hedda’s feelings of always being on show.
It was these small aspects that really fascinated me while watching the play. Because everything was completely stripped back, we found that you focused on the more intricate details of the actors facial, body language and symbolic meanings. It was a totally different experience to the bigger shows we usually see but nonetheless, just as enjoyable.
Going behind the scenes was a really fascinating experience, something I wouldn’t have experienced without my blog and you guys, my wonderful readers. Sian showed us around both backstage and the set, letting us in on production secrets like hatches which hide props and design details we might notice like the low rumbling music played throughout the play to create a feeling of unease amongst the audience.
Overall, both Matt and I really enjoyed Hedda Gabler. As I say, it was our first experience of a play so I was curious how we’d find it but we actually spent the journey home from Milton Keynes discussing the entire thing and how much we liked it. The small cast were also exceptionally talented. Do you enjoy going to the theatre? I’d love to know if you’ve seen Hedda Gabler or any plays or shows you’d recommend I go and see? Let me know in the comments!
You can find out more about Hedda Gabler on Tour here.
Huge thank you to Milton Keynes theatre for our complimentary tickets to the show.