I officially have a new hobby – seeing any National Theatre Live film that comes to Australia. This is a genius concept that has been going on for a number of years but this particular viewing was my first time. Imagine being able to see the best of British theatre at the cinemas?! Genius I tell you. While I had no prior knowledge of Henrik Ibsen‘s Hedda Gabler, the trailer enticed me enough to head along to its Melbourne premiere. What unravelled in those three or so hours was nothing short of sublime and had me hooked right from the very first scene.
Understanding how the National Theatre works is really quite remarkable, and thanks to a short film before the play, we were given an insider’s look into the New Work Department. The department head Emily McLaughlin says they are about constantly pioneering and creating new classics from page to stage, and enabling theatre-makers to develop new ideas for the stage to create exciting works that reflect the times we live in.
“One of the most important areas of our work is script reading. The National Theatre has an open submission policy so anyone can send a play to us at any time. They all get read. It’s a brilliant way for us to get to know up and coming writers, and get a sense of hot topics and issues of what people are thinking and writing about around the country,” she said.
Amazingly, last year the New Work Department received almost 1,500 scripts, ran 85 workshops and worked with nearly 1,000 artists. This is so astounding to me especially considering how strained we are here in Australia. Clearly, the National Theatre is a place for experimentation and trying new things, and this was no exception when it came to Hedda Gabler.
First performed in 1891 and considered to have created one of the greatest dramatic lead roles in theatre, Hedda Gabler explores the unsettling and disturbing world of a woman trapped. Directed by Ivo van Hove comes a stunning 21st-century representation of what it’s like to be a woman in a man’s world.
“This is his [Ibsen’s] masterpiece; a portrait of himself. He had an urgency to tell the story of someone who felt totally isolated from the world. It’s full of nuisances, details, and visions, and that’s what makes this piece an enigmatic play,” van Hove said.
In order for this work to translate to a modern-day audience, key choices were made so as to reflect the society in which we live. The story is set in one location; an inner city loft, that is either under construction or being destroyed. We’ll leave that up to you to decide. The theme of being trapped is one of major exploration in this play and the fact that van Hove was able to showcase this through very clever directorial choices says a lot about his vision and finesse.
Leading lady Ruth Wilson is superb in the title role and I’m now committed to watching more of her film work where I can. It’s an interesting thought that this play has been considered feminist because is it about a woman trapped in a man’s world or just trapped in society? What Wilson has to say about this role though is extremely prolific and really makes you think.
“Ivan brought out that this is not a woman trapped in a man’s world, but people trapping themselves and destroying themselves,” she said.
As the play goes on, it becomes clearer to see what Wilson is saying and I 100% agree that Gabbler is a product of the environment she creates for herself. The loft itself has no doors so people come and go, but funnily enough, Gabler doesn’t; she just stays home. It’s as if she is an object that people come and view.
van Hove felt an obligation to talk about people and the themes that matter today, so if allowing the characters to make physical protests throughout the work is a way of expression, then the beauty in that is unparalleled.
“It’s still very rare to write female characters that are unlikeable, dangerous or frightening, but it’s saying they are illuminating some truths and human qualities. That’s what I feel this production does, why it’s still relevant today, and why it will always continue to find relevance in years to come,” Wilson said.
Hedda Gabler is running in Melbourne’s Cinema Nova until April 9th, however, you can find a city and cinema near you that is screening it right here. Also, keep in mind that upcoming broadcasts include Shakespeare‘s Twelfth Night, Rosencrantz & Guildenstern Are Dead, Obsession with Jude Law, and much more.