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The difference a day can make

Heather Neill talks to director Richard Eyre about his interpretation of Ibsen's portrayal of a woman who claims that her only talent is for boredom

Hedda Gabler

By Henrik Ibsen

Almeida Theatre, March 10 to April 30

Tel: 020 7359 4404

A different production opens in Perth on April 14, touring to Coventry, Huddersfield, Southampton, Edinburgh and Glasgow

Director Richard Eyre has written his own version of Ibsen's play from a literal translation. "Every version is of its time, and even a literal translation makes choices. Any idiom is loaded with interpretive choices and colour in finding an equivalent. But the literal translation does reveal a fantastic lucidity in the original."

Eyre agrees that Tesman, Hedda's bourgeois husband is particularly difficult to render in English. "He has a couple of ticks which seem almost like Tourette's and can be grating, but an equivalent has to be found."

This he has done, he believes, without making him as tedious as he is in some earlier translations.

Hedda Gabler was written by Ibsen in 1890, when he was 62. The previous year he had become infatuated with 18-year-old Emilie Bardach, with whom he corresponded. While this relationship is the inspiration for The Master Builder (1892), it seems also to have influenced the creation of Hedda, an upper-class woman without a role who declares her only talent is for boredom. She and her husband take up residence in the house of her choice, which is beyond her husband's means. In little more than a day, she has destroyed Eilert Loevborg, for whom she has romantic feelings, and shot herself with her father's pistol. The suicide is not premeditated. Eyre says: "Hedda never thinks ahead. She is solipsistic, living in the present, so it is exasperating for her to have to think of the future when she becomes pregnant. She never thinks of the consequences of her actions. Her suicide is a spontaneous act. It is almost as trivial as that, she kills herself just to demonstrate that she can".

Eyre finds Hedda's energy appealing, an energy which she is "unable to crystallise and use productively, which leads to self-destruction and the destruction of others. She is frustrated by the mundanity of life, but she knows she has the capacity to destroy everything she touches".

Hedda is obsessed with class and position, but without the status or wealth she desires. Eyre says: "She is manipulative - she wants desperately to have command over men. Her only weapon is her sexual appeal, yet she is terrified of sex. She yearns to defy bourgeois society, yet fears becoming the object of scandal and ridicule." This conflict between bohemianism and bourgeois respectability reflects Ibsen's own feelings.

Eyre says people ask if Hedda Gabler is a feminist play. "It is not polemical, but it is an indictment of men's oppression of women. Change Hedda's gender and much would be resolved."

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