Frankly My Dear UK go backstage at The Lowry to discover how HEDDA GABLER is brought to life on stage
Following it’s sold out run at the National Theatre earlier this year, the critically acclaimed HEDDA GABLER heads to The Lowry this week as part of a five month long UK tour.
Based on Henrik Ibsen’s classic play, HEDDA GABLER tells the story of a woman trapped in a new marriage and bored with life. In an attempt to entertain herself, Hedda tries control those around her, only to see her own world unravel. The play has been reworked and reimagined for modern day thanks to Olivier award winning playwright Patrick Marber, who is best known for his work CLOSER.
Those who have seen the National Theatre production will know that Jan Versweyveld’s ultra-clever set design plays a big part in the show’s success. Together with the Director Ivo van Hove, the pair have stripped back any unnecessary grandeur from the piece, opting for a bleak, stylish and minimalist set design from which to stage all of the action.
Designed to look like Hedda and Tesman’s brand new apartment, the set is bare and basic with no fittings, no fixtures and no paint on the walls. Versweyveld’s aim was to make the set feel as realistic as possible, so much so that the set at the National Theatre in London was made using real concrete floors and real plasterboard walls. While this is not practical for touring, the touring production still boasts plenty of real features such as the patio window and the main centrepiece – the fire.
Designed to come out of a secret hatch hidden within the walls, the fireplace is arguably the most striking feature of the set. Controlled by the lighting engineer, the fire itself works much in the same way as most home central heating systems. With the press of a button and the turning of a leaver, the fire springs to life on stage, becoming more intense – and spectacular – as the play develops.
Another interesting feature of the set is the innovative lighting design, which is used to great effect in the show. Focusing on a naturalistic lighting style, the majority of the stage is lit by the light which shines through the patio window. The colours are interchanged to create a sense of time and blinds are used to soften the lighting when needed.
Yet, what initially seems vast is actually rather choking. Company Stage Manager Sian Wiggins explains that while the set looks like an apartment yet to be furnished, what we see is actually a visual representation of what is in Hedda’s head and as play develops, this becomes more apparent. The blinds on the patio window soon emulate shadowed prison bars on the vast blank walls, and the unpainted apartment walls begin to look more like the padded cell of the asylum as Hedda’s world begins to unravel.
This feeling of entrapment is also heightened by the lack of exits. With no doors, entrances or exits on stage, almost every approach to the Tesman household is down the auditorium aisles, generating the feeling that there is no way in or out, for both the audience and the title character.
If you harboured any doubts that the touring production of HEDDA GABLER wouldn’t be as visually stunning as the London production, it’s time to put those doubts to rest. From Versweyveld ice-cool set to Tom Gibbon’s innovative sound design, every inch of this production boasts the fire and style of the original. Add this to a stunning performance by the talented cast and you’re pretty much onto a winner. If you haven’t booked your ticket yet, it’s time to do it now!
HEDDA GABLER runs at The Lowry until 4 November 2017.
Donna is the Founder and Editor of Frankly, My Dear UK. By day, she works as a digital marketing specialist, by night she reviews film, theatre and music for a wide range of publications including WhatsonStage and The Reviews Hub. Loves Formula 1, prosecco and life.