So many books, so little shelf space. I was weeding out playtexts today (I come from a line of great-aunt hoarders, and know that there's a bags-in-the-bathtub scenario which sits at the worst-case end of the stockpile spectrum).
There's a version of Ibsen's Hedda Gabler that I've been havering over. It's by Lucy Kirkwood, and, to be honest, is pretty flawed. Performed by the Gate Theatre in London's Notting Hill last year, transposes the play to the same desirable district - a posh area with boho pretentions. It's certainly Hedda territory, just the over-priced locale she'd demand - but a setting which references the streets beyond the auditorium becomes tricky. It's harder than ever to avoid the notion posed bluntly by Toby (Kirkwood's equivalent of the insinuating Judge Brack): 'get a bloody job, Hedda.' Although Hedda swallows a memory stick rather than shoving the manuscript of Lovborg's masterpiece into the furnace, the adaptation, if anything, otherwise hugged Ibsen's original too closely to work.
However, there was one spine-tingling moment in which Kirkwood levered open her heroine's well-defended inner life.
Want to meet Hedda's moose? Join me after the click:
'Your problem,' Toby tells her, 'is that you have never really been excited by anything.' Not true, she says, and describes a trip to Oslo in deep winter with her father, when she was 13, just after her mother's death:
I had a beautiful red, fur-lined coat with a hood and mittens on a string.
We didn't say a word to each other for three days. We just walked and walked around the city. Hand in hand. Then on the third night, we went out (very late it was, my father and I were owls, not larks), and -
there she was. Standing in the middle of a silent street.
A great huge moose with very serious brown eyes, standing right there on the tarmac. She looked at us for a while. We looked back. And I thought I was ill because my heart, my heart was beating like bird wings in my chest. And then just like that she turned. And wandered away again. Back through the sleeping city.
My father and I waited until it had completely disappeared from sight. And then he said -
'Time for bed, Hedda Gabler' -
And we went home.
There's no equivalent speech in the original. Hedda doesn't let just anybody rummage around her psyche: she waits to be disappointed, expects to be bored, and - boringly - experience doesn't disappoint. This youthful memory, from the cusp of adulthood, reveals a longing for the uncanny, for an event which transforms the idea of familiar, over-indulged, routine, pierces the seal on the soul. No wonder that Hedda remembers herself in a red coat, that staple of the intrepid child (Little Red Riding Hood), or of imperilled innocence (Schindler's List), or of sheer eeriness (Don't Look Now).
It's rare that an adaptor invents memories or fantasies for classic characters. Those who engage in an argument with an original (Aimé Césaire taking on The Tempest; Arnold Wesker and Julia Pascal questioning The Merchant of Venice) may end up writing complete new plays. I can't, offhand, think of an equivalent of Kirkwood's bold, dreamy intervention. Can you? And, darn it, I may have talked myself into hanging on to the text...
AJ BlogsAJBlogCentral | rss
Terry Teachout on the arts in New York City
Andrew Taylor on the business of arts & culture
rock culture approximately
Laura Collins-Hughes on arts, culture and coverage
Richard Kessler on arts education
Douglas McLennan's blog
Dalouge Smith advocates for the Arts
Art from the American Outback
For immediate release: the arts are marketable
No genre is the new genre
David Jays on theatre and dance
Paul Levy measures the Angles
Judith H. Dobrzynski on Culture
John Rockwell on the arts
Jan Herman - arts, media & culture with 'tude
Apollinaire Scherr talks about dance
Tobi Tobias on dance et al...
Howard Mandel's freelance Urban Improvisation
Focus on New Orleans. Jazz and Other Sounds
Doug Ramsey on Jazz and other matters...
Jeff Weinstein's Cultural Mixology
Martha Bayles on Film...
Fresh ideas on building arts communities
Greg Sandow performs a book-in-progress
Exploring Orchestras w/ Henry Fogel
Harvey Sachs on music, and various digressions
Bruce Brubaker on all things Piano
Kyle Gann on music after the fact
Greg Sandow on the future of Classical Music
Norman Lebrecht on Shifting Sound Worlds
Jerome Weeks on Books
Scott McLemee on books, ideas & trash-culture ephemera
Wendy Rosenfield: covering drama, onstage and off
Chloe Veltman on how culture will save the world
Public Art, Public Space
Regina Hackett takes her Art To Go
John Perreault's art diary
Lee Rosenbaum's Cultural Commentary
Tyler Green's modern & contemporary art blog