Thoughts on the Adaptation of Hedda Gabler by Andrew Upton

Unexpected, even these days. Modern still. This way Ibsen has of tilting the story and unbalancing the dynamics between the characters. The challenge of adapting the play lies in getting this… tiltedness. In this failed heroism. This failure of Heroism. The unsettling dissatisfaction we feel as audience at the cross purposes of the character’s negotiations. At the cross purposes of the character’s reality and their skewed ideal of themselves. Because in fiction, as in memory, the tendency is to smooth over or idealise. The tendency is to make sense. Sense in a vacuum, where everything fits into place. It’s being there means it must have a place in the overall sense. The ideal sense.

In my application to the adaptation I came to realise Ibsen’s mastery of the separateness of people. That in an exchange Hedda may think something apparently similar to Judge Brack or Ejlert Lovborg – they may even seem to agree – and yet, what each has understood is profoundly different and consequently sets them on very different paths. It is from this conflict, the conflict of understanding, that the drama is born.

The dogma for writers these days is ‘tell the one story’, but Ibsen can tell seven and thus create this enormous, constantly shifting work. The perception of what it is possible to create within the confines of theatrical Naturalism is often limited, something more akin to chamber music. A sonata of grievances, but this is not so for Hedda Gabler. In Hedda Gabler, Ibsen has composed a symphony of misunderstanding.

Reprinted with the kind permission of Currency Press. First published in the Sydney Theatre Company program Hedda Gabler 2004