This October, an exciting modern reconstruction of the century-old masterpiece Hedda Gabler, by Henrik Ibsen, is coming to the Festival Theatre. Directed by the renowned Ivo van Hove, this show is set to be a dynamic and bracing performance: a must-see.
True to form, van Hove, working with award-winning playwright Patrick Marber, has invigorated Ibsen’s timeless work to, in van Hove’s words, “give audiences a sign of the times.” With a contemporary loft-style set and lighting used “not to light something, but like a sculpture” [sic], I think the audience will be enthralled by the new take on a play too-often performed as a history. As van Hove explains: “We live in the 21st century, not in the 19th”. Lead Lizzy Watts seems to have connected entirely with her character, and says that being allowed to “explore Hedda in [her] own way” has “been a very enjoyable process.” She seeks to connect with her audience: “I feel that one of the joys of theatre is when you sense that you know the people up on the stage, that you recognise them from real life”, which looks to make for a very interactive performance, and connotes a fairly intimate relationship between the cast and their audience.
This relationship will likely be forged through Jan Versweyveld’s minimalistic set, which Lizzie describes as “very beautiful […] and very free”. It is the kind of bare staging which forces the audience to isolate the highly psychological approach that Ibsen takes to characterisation; they have to get to know Hedda intimately, because there really isn’t a whole lot to look at. It is natural for some die-hard Ibsen fans to fear that van Hove’s modernisations might take some social issues out of their designed context. Nonetheless, I don’t feel that this is going to be a problem here.
If we cast our minds back to the National Theatre’s A Doll’s House, the contemporary approach did it absolute justice. Ibsen’s work is ageless, and van Hove explains that he feels as though he has “an obligation to talk about people, humans, [and] themes that matter today,” which in the current social climate is particularly accurate.
Overall, I think, this “quite sexy” version of a play, that will continue to be socially relevant for years to come, will be an absolute success, and entirely worth going to see – even if it’s just to see Hedda Gabler from a new perspective.
Hedda Gabler is playing at Festival Theatre (17 and 21 October) after which it will continue its tour across the UK until March.