Hedda Gabler

Written by Henrik Ibsen (translated by Michael Meyer)

Thursday 5th to Saturday 7th July and Tuesday 10th to Saturday 14th July 1984

Directed by David Penrose

Thrilling, enigmatic, destructive, Hedda Gabler is one of theatre's most irresistible heroines. Returning from her honeymoon and already bored with her marriage, Hedda finds herself caught between the brilliant but dissolute Eilert Loevborg and the clutches of the predatory Judge Brack. As a shocking path of destruction unfolds, there can be only one outcome...

AuthorHenrik Ibsen

Henrik Ibsen (1828 - 1906)

Ibsen was a major 19th-century Norwegian playwright, theatre director, and poet. He is often referred to as the godfather of modern drama and is one of the founders of Modernism in the theatre. His plays were considered scandalous to many of his era, when Victorian values of family life and propriety largely held sway in Europe. Ibsen's work examined the realities that lay behind many facades, possessing a revelatory nature that was disquieting to many contemporaries. It utilised a critical eye and free enquiry into the conditions of life and issues of morality.

Ibsen was born to relatively well-off family and became an apprentice pharmacist at the age of 15. He fathered an illegitimate son at the age of 18 - (whom he never met) and later left for Christiania (Oslo) to try to attend university. He failed the entrance exams and started to concentrate on his writing. His first play 'Catiline', was published under the pseudonym Brynjolf Bjarme when he was only 20, but it was not performed. In 1858 he became the creative director of the Christiania Theatre and married Suzannah Thoresen the same year. She gave birth to their only child, a son, Sigurd in 1859. Disenchanted with the poverty and lack of recognition of his life in Norway, in 1864 he went to live in Italy.

His next play, 'Brand' written in 1865, was staged to critical and financial success, as was the following play, 'Peer Gynt' to which Edvard Grieg famously composed incidental music and songs. Ibsen moved from Italy to Germany in 1868, where he spent years writing the play he regarded as his main work, 'Emperor and Galilean' although very few shared his opinion about this play. Ibsen published A Doll's House in 1879 and Ghosts in 1881; both scathing commentaries on Victorian morality. 'The Wild Duck' written in 1884 is by many considered Ibsen's finest work, and it is certainly the most complex. In later plays such as 'Hedda Gabler' and 'The Master Builder', Ibsen explored psychological conflicts. These plays are particularly interesting because of their hard-edged, objective look at interpersonal confrontation.

Ibsen can be credited with completely rewriting the rules of drama with a realism which was to be adopted by Chekhov and others and which we see in the theatre to this day. He returned to Norway in 1891 and died in Christiania (now Oslo) after a series of strokes in 1906.

TranslatorMichael Meyer

Michael Meyer (1921 - 2000)

Michael Meyer is recognised internationally as the principal English-language authority on Ibsen. He was born in London into a merchant family of Jewish origin, and studied English at Christ Church College, Oxford. His first translation of a Swedish book was the novel 'The Long Ships' by Frans G. Bengtsson. His work appeared in the New York Review of Books. A playwright himself, his translations of many Ibsen's plays (as well as Strindberg's) are universally acclaimed. While he wrote acclaimed biographies of both these playwrights; it was the volume on Ibsen which is generally regarded as definitive - it won the 1971 Whitbread Award for Biography. His autobiography 'Not Prince Hamlet' was published in 1989.

PlayHedda Gabler

First published in 1890, Hedda Gabler is probably Ibsen's most performed play, with the title role regarded as one of the most challenging and rewarding for an actress. The action takes place in a villa in Christiania (now known as Oslo), Norway. Hedda Gabler, daughter of an aristocratic General, has just returned from her honeymoon with George Tesman, an aspiring but reliable young academic. Desperately unromantic, he has combined research with their honeymoon and it becomes clear in the course of the play that she has never loved him but has married him because of the tediousness of her life.

The character of Hedda is considered by some critics as one of the great dramatic roles in theatre; the "female Hamlet". Depending on the interpretation, Hedda may be portrayed as an idealistic heroine fighting society, a victim of circumstance, a prototypical feminist, or a manipulative villain. Her almost demonic energy proves both attractive and destructive for those around her.

The play premiered in 1891 in Germany to negative reviews, but has subsequently gained recognition as a classic of realism, 19th century theatre and world drama. The first UK performance was at the Vaudeville Theatre, London in 1891. The play has been adapted for screen a number of times, from the silent film era of the early 1910s to the present day in several languages. Awards include the 1992 and the 2006 Laurence Olivier Awards for Best Revival.

The Bench Production

Hedda Gabler poster image

This play was staged at Havant Arts Centre, East Street Havant - Bench Theatre's home since 1977.


Miss Juliana TesmanJanet Simpson
BerthaVeronica Haste
George TesmanJohn Valentine
Hedda TesmanIngrid Corrigan
Mrs Thea ElvstedGina Cameron
Judge BrackRay Osborne
Eilert LoevborgFrank Lyons


Director David Penrose
Stage Manager Peter Holding
Assistant Stage Managers Jude Salmon
Tony Kellaway
Lighting Saul Hewish
Sound Jacquie Penrose
Costumes Julia Vaughan-Lewis
Jane Hart
Jo German
Poster Jenny Graham
Set Construction Bill Bickers
Bench Theatre Members
Properties Karen Caen
Publicity Penny Cameron

Director's Notes

'Hedda Gabler' was written in 1890; Ibsen was sixty-two. His work had already passed through two clearly marked phases. The first major plays had drawn on Norwegian folk-myth, characterising the struggles of life through the inner demons and spirits which posses us; the troll world of 'Peer Gynt' (1867). From large scale poetic dramas the plays moved to a treatment of contemporary social themes: the independence of women within marriage in 'A Doll's House' (1879); the corruption of provincial officialdom in 'An Enemy of the People' (1882). The link between these two violently different kinds of play is that Ibsen always wrote about individuals striving to find personal identity; a sense of achievement; and love. For Ibsen, being alone makes it our duty to find out who we are - and to become that person.

As old age approached, the playwright took stock of himself in exactly this light. The last phase of his work is dominated by an inclusive, often harsh self-analysis. With 'Hedda Gabler' he pulled both of his earlier pre-occupations into sharp focus; the dark, destroying forces deep within him and the shrewd observation of life around him. All the characters are extensions of parts of Ibsen's personality. On stage he set them to war. That he should choose a woman's life for the battlefield allowed him to play out the conflict between our ambitions and what we are actually capable of achieving in the most severe circumstances. A young friend of Ibsen's, Helene Raff, recorded the content of a conversation she had with him in 1889:

"He stressed that women's will in particular tends to remain undeveloped: we dream and wait for something unknown that will give our lives meaning. As a result of this women's emotional lives are unhealthy, and they fall victim to disappointment."

David Penrose


The NewsJanice Macfarlane

It's passion plus humour

The tragedy of wasted life is played out with a passion, but not without humour in the drawing room of a late 19th Century small town in Ibsen's 'Hedda Gabler'. A fine production by the Bench Theatre, Havant, gives Ingrid Corrigan the role of a lifetime. That her presence commands the stage from her first entry proves she meets the challenge of Hedda with ease, conveying both her thread of steel and her vulnerability. Main strengths in David Penrose's direction are the choice of an unfussy translation by Michael Meyer, and the natural quality of the dialogue. On the first night, the audience quickly picked up on the play's many funny or ironical lines. Good casting helped here, too, with the right level of comic understatement from Janet Simpson newcomer John Valentine as deadly dull George Tesman, and especially Ray Osborne as Judge Brack, whose somewhat sinister bulk broods over the Tesman household in the role of avuncular family friend. Gina Cameron and Frank Lyons brought a careful mix of hope and fatal weakness to the intense young couple, Thea and Loevborg, who fall prey to Hedda's manipulative power. The intimacy of the David Spackman Theatre at Havant Arts Centre adds to the sense of a heroine's confinement to a small, rather cluttered interior. This production is played in period costume - would the General's daughter have to settle for secondhand power today? Make up your own mind by seeing 'Hedda Gabler' at Havant Arts Centre, showing tonight and from Tuesday to Saturday next week at 7.30 p.m. For tickets contact the Centre at Havant 472700

The News, 7th July 1984

Production Photographs