One of the world’s most exciting directors Ivo van Hove made his National Theatre debut with Hedda Gabler last year, and now he takes the production on tour around the UK. Considered as one of the most dramatic female characters in theatre, Lizzy Watts is taking on the role of the free-spirited Hedda Gabler.
It’s a thrilling production about a woman who has just returned from her honeymoon with Tesman and their relationship is already in trouble. She is trapped but determined to get herself out by controlling and manipulating those around her. “She is someone struggling to come to terms with her new circumstances but also struggling with some more longstanding unhappiness,” Lizzy told me. The production itself takes place over a 36 hour period and shows Hedda slowly spiraling out of control as things begin to unravel.
When Lizzy first approached the role in rehearsals with director Ivo van Hove, she said she read a lot of Ibsen, who wrote Hedda Gabler, in order to really absorb herself in his writing. “In rehearsal, the way that Ivo and his associates work is that from day one we rehearsed with full costume, set and music,” she explained. Which she really felt helped her connect to the role from the very start, particularly as she is such a complex character.
People often compare the role of Hedda Gabler to the female version of Hamlet, she’s not a likable character, and this is something we see a lot less of in the arts. “Ibson was a brilliant writer, as I noticed when I started reading his plays that they often had at least one woman in each of his plays that was battling against or fighting against the social norm and breaking the rules of that time,” Lizzy said. “This version I think she is 28 and that is quite rare. To see someone in their 20s, even now in a modern play who is so incredibly feisty.”
It’s an intense production and something that Lizzy felt really challenged her as an actor. “It is very daunting because you feel that within the space of two hours, you have to get to a place,” she said. Lizzy was told not to try and understand Hedda, or try and explain every decision because she is very erratic. “I’d never done anything that was as highly emotional as this and I’ve never played a role where the character wanted to kill herself, so even that itself and thinking about how deep down in the dark void you have to go to get to that point and make it believable for the audience is scary,” she explained.
In this version of the play, Tesman, Brack and Hedda were all friends at some point, and Brack is a lot more dangerous and overpowering. Lizzy explained that it’s scarily relevant because of everything that has been happening in the last few weeks with Harvey Weinstein. “Most people at the start of the play would think Hedda was spoilt or brattish, but as the play unfolds you see that she has been abused by these men all in different ways,” Lizzy explained. “Her relationship with Brack is even more abusive.” The design of the set is a white room where all the other actors can leave but Hedda never leaves, this reflects what has been in the press recently because the door can be open but it isn’t always that easy to leave.
It’s a play that covers many issues in society, Lizzy mentioned that when she went to see it, what really struck her was that of course we have come a long way from when the play was originally written when the idea of a woman not wanting to get married or have children was shocking, but it is still a social pressure, which is highlighted in the production.
“I hope that people come away from the play with a lot of questions, and will take a lot of different things from it, dependent on who they are and where they are at in their life,” Lizzy said. “When I went to see it, I actually sympathised with Hedda, I think there are parts of Hedda in all of us. It’s an extreme play, and I don’t want to normalise it in any way as it is high emotion, but there are reasons for her being the way she is.”
Hedda Gabler is on at the Wolverhampton Grand from the 23rd to the 27th of January, tickets and information can be found here.