A bit late in the day writing about this production in my slightly mental year, but this was the second in the double bill at Northern Stage celebrating strong female protagonists. After Frankenstein, also adapted by Selma Dimitrijevic, Hedda was an interesting contrast. I have always found it a difficult play, the paradox of a woman who is so paralysed by fear of scandal that she cannot walk out of a loveless marriage and seems to opt for suicide, rather than become ensnared in the hinted at sex games of the manipulative Judge Brack. Ibsen doesn’t really explore mental heath in our modern sense, but it is there within the play as Hedda swings from wild elation at her influence on Loveborg to acts of impulsive destructiveness such as when she burns his manuscript.
I haven’t seen Ivan van Hoe’s NT version and am a great admirer of his work but for our version of Hedda I felt we really had to refer in some way to the period however stripped back and abstract the world could be in the design, the moral universe the characters inhabit seems to need a set of social constraints in which a free acting independent woman feels so trapped. The irony is that Thea, who Hedda patronises for her small mindedness, has actually made a completely life changing decision to leave her oppressive husband and step children and follow Loveborg into town, the play ends in her finding a new soul mate in Tesman while all options for Hedda seem shut out.
As we approached the design of the clothes I wanted to refer to period, but looked at contemporary references too; Tilda Swinton in a teal dressing gown in paired the colour choices for Hedda, a bold, brilliant jewel colour in contrast to the blacks of Aunt Julie (always in mourning for somebody ) and formality of mens’ evening wear. We were interested too in the corset as symbol of female constraint. For Loveborg the burnt out attraction of a Pete Doherty, in skinny jeans and chelsea boots with a shapeless period jacket.So in each character finding elements of the modern and fusing them with a period silhouette. Selma’s boldest intervention in the piece was to allow Hedda to stop time , for us to be able to see the world for a moment through her eyes as she scrutinises those around her. This idea developed into before Hedda shooting herself she sang an impassioned solo, then she killed herself in front of us, before reviving as a contemporary woman who rejects the constraints of her costume and storms out of the theatre!