Lizzy Watts in HEDDA GABLER

Frankly My Dear UK chats with Lizzy Watts about the National Theatre’s touring production of HEDDA GABLER

Following its sold-out run at the National Theatre in 2016, Henrik Ibsen’s modern masterpiece HEDDA GABLER finally heads out on a five month tour across the UK.

Adapted by Patrick Marber, the play tells the story of Hedda, a young woman trapped in a marriage she seems uncertain of. Bored and despondent, Hedda seeks distraction where she has always sought distraction – in men. But things are different now and as Hedda tries to control and manipulate those around her, her world begins to unravel.

Ahead of its performance at Salford’s The Lowry this week, Frankly My Dear UK caught up with Lizzy Watts who plays the title role of Hedda. Watts’ previous theatre credits include STRIFE at Chichester Festival Theatre, A MIDSUMMER NIGHT’S DREAM at The Globe and THE ANGRY BRIGADE and ARTEFACTS at The Bush.

Frankly My Dear UK (FMD): For those who haven’t seen the play before, could you start by telling us a little bit about HEDDA GABLER and the character that you play?

Lizzy Watts (LW): The play is about a woman, Hedda Gabler, who has just got married. When we meet her at the beginning, she’s just got back from a six month long honeymoon with her new husband Tesman who is an academic. The start of the play is about her struggling to come to terms with her new situation and takes place over a 36 hour period. It’s about that first day and a half, of being in this new home – supposedly the home they’ve always dreamed of – and about the fallout of how she’s really struggling with something much deeper, a deeper longstanding depression.

FMD: There have been several translations of the play over the years, what is it about this particular National Theatre production that is so special?

LW: Ivo [van Hove] and Patrick [Marber] together have made something quite stripped back, a simple pure reading of the text. All the characters have been brought to life in a way that is more relatable and recognisable. Although the situations and the circumstances of the play are very extreme and it is a highly dramatic piece, it does feel very ‘of now’.

FMD: The role of Hedda has been played by many famous actresses over the years, most notably Ruth Wilson at the National Theatre. How do you make the character your own?

LW: When I was auditioning, it was quite clear to me from the whole team, that while the design is the same and the structure is the same, they wanted me to find my own way. Ivo [van Hove] is quite insistent on bringing yourself to the character and I felt like I was allowed to explore it. Ruth [Wilson] did an amazing job but we’re very different naturally so our instincts are slightly different. The brilliant thing about Hedda is that she’s so complex and complicated that there are a million different ways of going with her. She’s got no obvious, logical through line a lot of the time so you have to sort of do it moment to moment. Ivo’s work is very much like that. You don’t do a lot of table work, you’re straight up on the first day of rehearsals, in costume and doing it right from day one. It did enable me to have a lot more freedom actually than I thought I might.

FMD: You mentioned that Hedda is quite a complex and complicated character, what have you found most challenging about bringing the role to life?

LW: I guess the journey that she goes on. I do think that Ivo’s work really helps you. Everything is there during rehearsals so the music is there, the set is there, so you feel really encouraged to get to performance point much earlier than I’ve ever done in rehearsals before. What I’ve found as I’ve gone on is, because Hedda is sometimes played or perceived as evil, I went into it thinking she’s a bit more evil than actually she is. She’s a skilled manipulator and absolutely has a way of pushing people’s buttons. She knows exactly how to get what she wants but I don’t really feel that she plans any of it. She doesn’t sort of sit down and create this evil plan, it all just happens quite spontaneously for her. For me, I’ve just been trying to live it minute by minute. I guess that’s the hardest thing about her. She doesn’t really follow any logical path in her thoughts but that’s also the most fun because there’s no excuses. You can behave as outrageously as you want with her, go as far as you want and generally, get away with it.

FMD: The role of Hedda is physically demanding as well as emotionally demanding, how do you cope with that level of intensity week after week?

LW: It’s definitely been a very different touring experience for me than anything I’ve ever done. Straight after the show, I go home and I sleep. I’m just really, really exhausted in a different way. It’s a good tired but in a way that I’ve never felt from a show before. Vocally it’s really demanding and the theatres we are playing are bigger than any theatres I have played before. My boyfriend has got me hooked on going to spas, which I was doing anyway for muscle relaxation but now I go and do my voice exercises in the steam room. Also just choosing a good time in the day to eat and timing when I drink water is vital. It takes over your life but in a really good way.

FMD: Hedda is often regarded as the female Hamlet, a role most actors aspire to in their career. Are there any dream projects or roles you hope to play in the future?

LW: What I would really love to do is some comedy, in any form really whether that be theatre or television. I’ve done funny plays and I’ve done a few of the Shakespeare comedies but I’d really love to do a modern, classic comedy. I haven’t done very much television, that’s been something that’s only happened recently in the last couple of years so I’d like to get more experience of that but I need to have a really good think about a particular role because I guess if I say it, I might get to do it [laughs].

HEDDA GABLER runs at The Lowry from 31 October to 4 November and tours nationally until 10 March 2018.