Hedda Gabler

hedda gabler 11 sept

In the last couple of years Sheridan Smith has certainly been busy – with recent roles on screen in Accused, The Scapegoat, Mrs Biggs and the film Tower Block as well as frequent appearances on the stage. She now takes on the title role in the Old Vic‘s Hedda Gabler. Ably supported by a great ensemble cast including Adrian Scarborough, Fenella Woolgar and Anne Reid, Smith’s captivating performance as Hedda demonstrates why she’s the actress of the moment. Her Hedda is cruel and vindictive but also unhappy, desperate and trapped – a woman desperately searching for some control in her life. Sheridan brings likeability to a character that could have been totally unsympathetic.

While throughout the play Hedda resorts to scheming and manipulation, this is the only way that she can hope to influence her life and those around her. The great tragedy of Hedda’s story is that in trying to make an impact, and to gain some control over her life, she fails and instead increases her suppression. As she falls to the mercy of the judge her only remaining option to take control of her destiny seems to be in taking her own life.

Hedda is smothered by society’s expectations of her; that her fulfilment in life should come from loving her husband and bearing his children. Her husband seems unaware of her own wishes, as demonstrated by his reaction to her announcement that she is pregnant. Sally Ledger’s interesting programme article explores the contemporary importance of Ibsen’s play in identifying the restrictions imposed by late-nineteenth-century bourgeois society. She points out that although the play was taken up by feminists as defining the unfair expectations of women Ibsen himself believed that the constrictive nature of society was actually a “problem of humanity in general”. Whether as a statement about the position of women of or on society in general, Ibsen’s Hedda Gabler certainly poses thought-provoking questions about the restrictive nature of society.

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Kids Week, and A Night Less Ordinary

Having spent the best part of an hour this morning attempting to navigate the very busy Kids Week booking system, as well as my equally busy diary, I am now looking forward to seeing Les Mis and Singin’ in the Rain with my younger sister this summer. Kids Week (which offers free theatre tickets to children accompanied by adults paying full price, as well as events and activities) is a great example of the continuing interest in engaging a new generation in theatre.

Although some of my friends attend the theatre sporadically, and one of my best friends is as addicted to theatre as I am, there are also lots of young people who don’t consider theatre as something that could be relevant to them. Many are intimidated by the prospect of attending the theatre, which is something I can relate to; even as an avid theatre-goer I was somewhat intimidated by the Royal Opera House’s grand décor and smart-looking clientele when I visited aged 18 to see Romeo and Juliet. But once inside the production was amazing, and if people dared to venture inside a theatre a new world would be opened up to them (also, most theatres are not as posh as the Royal Opera House!). The National Theatre has an inviting atmosphere and is home to a café, bars, and there is always an exhibition or musical performance to enjoy (although it is a bit of a maze). As the National Theatre turns Inside Out this summer its outside festival programme is bringing free and accessible entertainment to the South Bank. The outside venue creates an informal atmosphere and is sure to attract passersby.

As ticket prices continue to rise cost is also a barrier preventing many young (and older) people from attending the theatre. Yet many theatres have schemes offering cheap tickets for under-25s. The National Theatre’s Entry Pass scheme offers £5 tickets for all of its productions and often these are excellent seats. Although I think that this is the most generous scheme, especially considering the number of productions staged each season, there are many other theatres offering cheaper seats to young people, including The Old Vic, The Barbican and the West Yorkshire Playhouse. C145 is a brilliant scheme which not only offers under-18s the chance to see productions for £5 but in doing so also encourages them to attend a wider variety of performances than they might otherwise have done.

As well as these schemes there are also opportunities for everyone to have affordable access to quality productions. The Globe’s standing tickets are only £5, while the National Theatre’s Travelex season offers £12 tickets for many performances. Many West End theatres also sell day tickets which can be an affordable option for those with the time to queue.

A Night Less Ordinary (the Arts Council’s 2009-2011 pilot scheme to encourage theatre attendance among the under-26s by offering free tickets) demonstrates the importance of attracting a younger audience. The evaluation report found that while the majority of tickets were given to young people who said that they would probably not have visited the theatre had it not been for ANLO 92% of participants enjoyed the experience and 88% said they would pay to go again and would recommend theatre to friends and family; this clearly demonstrates the potential audience that young people offer.

Furthermore, participating venues believe that taking part has helped them to engage with young audiences and 41% of venues said the scheme had brought them commercial benefits through tickets sold to those accompanying free ticket holders and extra merchandise sales. The report suggests that ANLO is also partly responsible for the continuing development of the many membership and discount schemes for young people. The high success rate of ANLO demonstrates the importance of these discount schemes in developing and retaining an audience for the future.