[Spoilers below for Ibsen’s Hedda Gabler]
I don’t think anyone could see the desperation. Why would they? She was a privileged woman, quite well – off, newly married to a promising professor. Back from her honeymoon, it was time to settle to the delicious routine of married life. She smiled at the gentlemen, went to the next room and blew her brains out. Welcome, to the world of Ibsen.
The very first time I went to the theatre I was twelve. I am not sure I would take my 11 year old to watch The Night of the Iguana by Tennessee Williams but at the time we were living in a small provincial town and my mum was desperate to expose me to something more substantial. I thank her to this day. It was an historic show with one of the best Greek theatre directors and to this day I feel quite emotional about it. I had such an intense and deep reaction to it that I’ve never been able to enjoy a play that left me lukewarm. When I was taught Aristotle’s poetics years later I already knew that in modern theatre there is usually no catharsis. Which is probably why I need a walk and quiet time with myself after a night at the theatre.
So this then – the story of the promising young woman turning the gun on herself – was one of those monumental plays. I had seen Hedda Gabler before. I had even heard a friend practice the monologue for her entry exams to the Greek National Theatre school (she passed). But there is nothing like seeing this play on stage with a talented cast – someone has to make you believe that this woman is battling between society’s expectations and the interesting life that is not designed for her. The moment for me was 2012 at the Old Vic. When I heard the shot, I swear, I stopped breathing for a while.
Hedda, it seemed to me, was a warning. Let conditions dictate your life and you will soon act like a cornered monster. You will destroy someone and destroy yourself. It is time to live.
Same year, 2012 (ain’t that funny?), I was in the Royal Festival Hall for a London Philharmonic Orchestra concert and that was the first time I hear Tchaikovsky’s 1812 Overture.
That autumn had been difficult. Over the summer my life had come crashing down and I felt bruised and battered.
Tchaikovsky’s piece starts with desperate people pleading with god to save them, as the French army approaches – with bits from La Marseillaise inserting themselves in the harmony. The Russian Army rallies and fights back (actual cannons are heard if this is properly staged). In the end it all explodes with joy as the bells are ringing, people celebrate and the cannons are heard again.
To this day I put this overture on when I’m celebrating or when I’m struggling. It transports me back to that feeling, to that evening.
I sat there, in that auditorium, (at the back seats as I’ve mentioned) and tears were running down my face. I started feeling sad for myself and gradually, the music took me where I needed to go. Blasting the fucking cannons. I had survived. It was time to ring the bells and get on with it.
And that’s exactly what I did.
—- Featured image by Runemaker on Flickr
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