Hedda Gabler is a realist late nineteenth-century work of famed Norwegian playwright Henrik Ibsen, rendered into its latest interpretation by Sonder Theatre. Director Joanna Bowman sat down with Alexandra Rego for a preview of what to expect from this exciting new production at the Byre Theatre.
Q: Let’s start with the obvious. Hedda Gabler is arguably one of the most famous and intimidating works of nineteenth century drama, particularly in terms of a leading female role. What drew you to this as a directorial project?
A: In my tenure at St Andrews, I realised with the exception of Shakespeare, I’d worked with chiefly contemporary texts. I’d been fascinated by Hedda Gabler for some time – I think it’s a rich and unique story – and I wanted to find a text that could help showcase the real wealth of female acting and production talent at St Andrews. It was then incredibly important to me to stage this production in the Byre, as a play like this somewhat demands a large, open space.
Q: On a more technical note, there have been several translations of this play over the years. Which translation did you pick and how did you come to this decision?
A: I ultimately chose Richard Eyre’s (2005) translation. Despite maintaining the social context of the Victorian era within the narrative, Eyre uses some elements of contemporary language (the word “chic” appears notably) throughout, effectively “translating” the play for the modern day.
Q: That in mind, why do you think Hedda Gabler is (perhaps somewhat upsettingly) still relevant today? How did today’s contemporary inform your production decisions?
A: We began every rehearsal with a round table for discussion and ideas (we were lucky to have a huge amount of rehearsal time for this production) to be sure that any interpretation and idea was considered before we decided on our ultimate approach. Hedda’s struggle for power and freedom within the boundaries of her life certainly proves relevant to today in many ways. I found, as did my cast, that it was very easy to find common ground with her. Hedda as a character somewhat focuses and fixates on the aesthetic of her time and her lifestyle. As a production team, we wanted a clean and crisp look to the set, lighting, and costumes that was more informed by the nineteenth century than married to it.
Q: Obviously Hedda is the play’s titular character, in a fairly small cast as mentioned previously. How did this affect your rehearsal process?
A: We were lucky to have nearly fifteen weeks of rehearsal in which we focused on the usually two or three-person scenes individually. Equally, we wanted to focus on showing the different cycles of power and oppression within the smaller cast. We tried to incorporate this into our production by choreographing each scene into a different circle of power and influence, as a way to visually represent which character is in control in each situation.