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August 18-31
VOL.14 ISSUE. 26

Inside Hedda’s Head

Nathan Raine
Published Thursday September 18, 05:53 pm
Well after 100 years, this iconic character is as relevant as she’s ever been


Runs to Oct. 5

Persephone Theatre

It's 1902 and Hedda Gabler is making its English-language debut in New York. After opening night, one critic writes of the title character: “Degenerate, selfish, morbid, cruel, bitter, jealous, something of a visionary, something of a lunatic.”

Over 100 years later, Hedda Gabler hasn't lost a fraction of its impact on audiences.

Written by renowned Norwegian playwright Henrik Ibsen in 1890, Hedda Gabler has become known as one of the great classics of the theatre, despite initially receiving an overwhelmingly negative reaction. (Perhaps it was a little before its time?) The title character, Hedda, is now widely recognized as one of the greatest and most sought-after roles for the stage.

Equal parts idealistic heroine and callous antagonist, victim of circumstance and master manipulator, Hedda Gabler finds herself trapped by a society in a world that doesn’t fit her. To survive, she sets in motion an array of schemes, sowing seeds of destruction in an attempt to make an impact on her husband, friends, and lovers. The result is a journey of impulse and emotion that’s both desperate and passionate.

Director Janet Wright, perhaps best known for her starring role as Emma Leroy on Corner Gas, might just be the perfect person to sit in the directorial chair for Persephone's first production of the season. Not only has Wright played the principal character herself back in the ‘70s, she also co-founded the entire gotdarn Persephone Theatre company.

“That was one of my favourite roles I ever played,” says Wright. “Hedda is one of the great roles ever. It's very intense. Right from the first moment she walks on stage — it's just such a great opportunity to go to such great lengths of feeling. She's just a great, classical character.”

As someone who is seasoned at performing the character, it might be difficult to detach from the role and resist dictating to the performers as the director. Not so, says Wright.

“I have no relationship with the character anymore. My experience has been so different,” she says. “I think as the director… a lot of directors have never been actors and that really surprises me. So to a certain degree, if I want a certain emotional level with her, I understand what I would do and try to get them to go there. But [I don't really] need to, I'm just so blown away by these actors.”

The actor charged with depicting Hedda is Saskatoon native Kate Herriot, who’s well aware of Wright’s familiarity with the character.

“Yeah, I’m so excited and very terrified because our director Janet has played her before,” she says. “But it's been wonderful because she's got that insight: it's like having someone who’s climbed Mount Everest before.”

The role itself, Harriet says, is both desirable and terrifying for good reason.

“[Hedda is] quite horrible to the people around her, and I'm naturally nice to a fault, so it's sort of like I have to turn my personality inside-out,” she says. “But it needs to be consuming — you really have to spend a lot of time thinking about it to sort of build up to the level of anxiety and terror and rage that she feels. But as actors we just kind of have to open up the rib cage and be as vulnerable and terrified as possible.”

Despite originating in the 19th century, both the character and the play still resonate with audiences today.

“She's got the same kind of vitality and rage and passion as a lot of the feminist protesters you see nowadays. Of course, now we understand things about emotional instability, but her struggle to find her identity and control in her life is something that women throughout time can identify with,” says Herriot.

“She's one of those women who’s completely horrifying and fascinating to watch on stage. And you don't really figure out why until the end.”

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