I get to go backstage with Patrick Marber’s version of Hedda Gabler at MK Theatre 🎭
I braved the beast from the east.
Well, on Tuesday* the beast was just a cute, icing sugar dusting of snow in Milton Keynes.
*It’s now Thursday and it’s getting gradually worse and sooo cold. Brr. Hello Spring?!
But, anyways, I braved the beast to get my bum to Milton Keynes Theatre to watch Hedda Gabler. A play by Henrik Ibsen. This particular production has been reimagined by Patrick Marber and is being performed on tour by the National Theatre.
The theatre was quiet. I had arrived rather early for the performance but I had something slightly different than just pre-theatre drinks planned. This lucky girl was headed to where the magic really happens.
Goodbye front of house and hello backstage.
And hello to the National Theatre Company Stage Manager, Siân Wiggins (below) who kindly lent her time before the debut performance in MK to give me a tour and a glimpse of what happens behind the scenes.
I felt like a rockstar groupie of the play world, but as I make my way around backstage I don’t have to step over passed out revellers or tip toe around unidentifiable puddles.
In fact, backstage was so quiet and calm. It was coming up to 60 minutes before curtains up and there was not a soul in sight.
I think I was expecting dark, dusty curtains, narrow spaces and maybe needing a torch to get around, but Milton Keynes Theatre is spacious. And everything from the tour company was very neat and organised.
Hedda Gabler has a set with a working gas fireplace and stage firearms. I think organised and neat is needed. Imagine that going wrong? YEEK.
But that doesn’t mean things are uncomfortable and horrid. There’s even a sofa behind the back of the fireplace, so a member of crew can keep watch on the fire for the entire performance. In relative comfort.
I learnt some of the sounds used for the performance are not that dissimilar to a torture method. A constant sound that you would be forgiven for not realising it there in the first place. It causes a sense of unease. Edginess. You might only notice it’s there when it stops and causes a sense of relief.
Needs to be heard to be believed. Clever stuff.*
*Later during the performance I kept my ears open for this sound. Sometimes it was easier to notice it than others but it’s weird. It works. Like filling the air with a different dimension of physical tension. Apprehension. Thickness.
Then I got to go onto the stage.
There’s something quite magical about stepping onto a stage. I used to perform a lot when I was younger and that feeling never leaves me.
My first time on the stage at Milton Keynes Theatre. Wowsers. Great view.
The set for Hedda Gabler is one room. One very plain apartment room. In need of decoration.
I learn from the stage manager; Hedda and her husband have just moved in and the builders have probably just moved out. Or something like that. It’s plain and for the most part, unfurnished, except for a sofa, the piano, an odd chair, table and lamp. Not all that ready for the two newlyweds who are just home from their honeymoon.
Whatever furniture is in there, it doesn’t belong to the couple. But it will do for now.
When I see the bare concrete floors and the plain, unfinished plaster boards, I realise that’s how I feel about Hedda Gabler. I don’t know this play. I barely know the plot. I’ve never read the play or seen any adaptations. My brain is as bare as this room as I look around it, wondering what is going to happen here.
When something is this bare it’s hard to put a year on it. To locate where you are standing, in the past, present or future? And that is exactly as Patrick Marber wishes it to be. The setting for this version of Hedda Gabler is blank. Not required. Not needed to be known.
The piano intrigues me. Much like a keyboard or a pen that can record words, the piano plays the sounds in life. Same thing, different beginning. Both are part of the person doing them. They’re soulful actions.
Actions that can show a lot about the person doing them. Whether it’s showing a discipline and control of a situation (perfect recital of music) or an imaginative (improvised) or tinkering (unsure of what to do?). It’s used in the performance in the latter way. Never being played properly. Toyed with, tinkered with, but never shown discipline or control.
When I left the stage and was talking backstage with Siân, a couple of cast members entered the stage to begin their vocal warmups (have a listen to the vid below).
And before I left, look at the ton of flowers I spotted backstage (below).
My first thoughts were, oh, maybe the actors get flowers when they finish their performance. Ha. I was wrong! They’re part of the set and if you go to see Hedda Gabler, you’ll see they’re not seen as beautiful flowers to Hedda. Their stench and what they are, everything is wrong for her. Maybe she see’s them as her own funeral flowers, now that she’s married and her life seems to be over. If it ever had the chance to begin. Like floral tributes to something she really doesn’t want.
Then it was time to get on the right side of the stage and wait for the performance.
Thanks to the Siân Wiggins, National Theatre and Milton Keynes Theatre for lending me their time. I know it must be precious, and I loved the experience.
I do wish I had a chance to meet Siân after seeing the performance. I knew I was going to have a million questions but that’s just the way things had to happen. I do get a chance to email her some questions though. If you have any, just hit me up and I’ll see if I can find them out for you.
Chilling in the piano bar before the performance.
Glug, glug, glug.
Then performance time.
When I took my seat. Hedda was already on stage. Tinkering on the piano (read what I mentioned earlier about the piano) with her back to the audience. You could feel her tension in the theatre, setting the tone for her mood.
What ensued after.
Meeting a strong-willed, sarcastic and funny woman. Who has a form of control over people around her through her beauty. But as powerful as it is, it’s twisted. It becomes a curse, it’s not what you think power should be. She’s giving up on herself and toys with power over others.
She’s funny, very funny, but her jokes never seemed appreciated or noticed by those around her. Not understood. That is a horrible feeling when it turns to muttering sarcasm and undertones.
Hedda is not a villain. Nor is she dislikable, despite her actions. She’s real and she’s actually quite relatable. Take the bare bones of Hedda and you could fit her seamlessly into an Eastenders episode, on Hollyoaks or a prime-time drama, but she wouldn’t appreciate you doing that. Even though Hedda Gabler was originally written by Henrik Ibsen and first performed in 1891. Her story is as appropriate now, in 2018, as it was then. From a time where strong women didn’t have any place in the. world, to a time where women are seeing some progression but still nowhere near equality. At least in some form, everywhere.
I’m not here to spoil plot. You go find out for yourself and keep this thought from Ibsen himself-
The great tragedy of life is that so many people have nothing to do but yearn for happiness without ever being able to find it.
It is a great delusion that one only loves one person.
Hedda Gabler is at Milton Keynes Theatre until 03.03.2018. The penultimate venue before it finishes it’s current run. Man, woman, I don’t care. Go see it.
“Look at Hedda, look how lovely she is.”