"I always thought it must be a funny place to live. If you don’t have any interest in books or learning."
Lucy Kirkwood’s adaptation of Ibsen’s Hedda Gabler not only relocates the play to the 21st century, but repositions Hedda’s background from Norwegian aristocracy to Oxford academia. Although the action of the play is set in London, Hedda’s father, Doctor Gabler, who dies just before the play begins, is recast from a distinguished general to Dean of New College.
References to Oxford pepper the play. Eli and Hedda, for example, talk of time they spent at Christ Church Meadow. In relocating the play to an academic circle, Kirkwood finds a convenient yet equally close-knit replacement to the original’s bourgeoise society. She provides a network for Hedda, George, Toby, Eli and Thea all to know each other. All of them, bar Hedda, studied at Oxford.
So why didn’t Hedda go to Oxford? As an intelligent girl brought up in the midst of it, she could well do. But we decided she didn’t. She may have grown up with the expectation she would study there, but for some reason she couldn’t submit her application. Perhaps the fear of rejection was too great, perhaps she didn’t actually want to.
This leads to the much more interesting question: what it is like to grow up in an Oxford college without ever studying there? As Hedda’s sister-in-law muses: "I always thought it must be a funny place to live. If you don’t have any interest in books or learning".
Using an Oxford context as a kind of modern equivalent for Norwegian aristocracy raises probing questions about the potential overlap between the university’s structures and nineteeth century aristocratic ones.
However, whilst these questions are certainly food for thought, our production is not explicitly designed to expose Oxford’s sometimes rather overly traditional structures. Rather, as a happy coincidence, we hope such references to Oxford will entertain and interest.