Playhouse Plays On

Who is Hedda?

posted 18 Jan 2018

It took me a long time before I realised that Hedda didn’t need to be liked. For ages I worried about how we could present her in a way that explained away all of her faults, or at least placed them in a digestible framework which allowed the audience to sympathise with her. And then one day I suddenly realised - do we ever ask if we ‘like’ Hamlet? How much do we sympathise with King Lear? The question of likeability seems silly when applied to these great dramatic figures. The need to be ‘liked’ is, for the most part, a distinctly female issue. I disagree with early reviewers who labelled Hedda a ‘monster’, or ‘morally repulsive’; she is not to be despised. But the question of whether Hedda is likeable? Frankly who cares.

Hedda is a character who, and particularly today, sits at an intersection. On one hand - thanks to the bourgeoise patriarchy inherent in Ibsen’s original - she is a character trapped by the standards and limitations of her time. In this climate, she is also acceptable. Of course she doesn’t leave her husband, or get a job - she can’t. In our production, where Hedda is relocated to a modern world, this is unpalatable - of course she would just leave her husband and get a job! But I don’t think Ibsen’s Hedda ever could. She is not a woman bursting full of bright ideas and a desire to get her hands dirty - she constantly avoids responsibility, and has no desire to even leave the house. The world she wants and envisages is not a world where women can get jobs and live independent lives; it is a toxic, aesthetic and idealistic one which can never exist except in her head. This is what excites her, and, (spoiler) eventually kills her.

But ultimately, the play is not just about Hedda, or female empowerment. Ibsen made the play deliberately existential, continuing to insist on this in his diary and public speeches. Ibsen continually insists upon the play’s human nature; Hedda is the portrait of an individual trying to find personal freedom and locate meaning within her life. We all go through this crisis. All of our design decisions are based on straddling this boundary between the individual and existential.

I am very excited that we can give a stage not only to Hedda, but also to Lucy Kirkwood. Kirkwood is one of the UK’s most successful young playwrights, and her adaptation is full of the deep questions of Ibsen’s original, with all the wit and dry humour of the modern world. We can’t wait to share it with you.

Lucy Hayes is a student at the University of Oxford and is directing Peripeteia's production of Hedda at OP from 21 to 24 Feb. Lucy Kirkwood will be in conversation in a special event on 23 Feb.


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