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Stage Editorial

heddagabbler.jpg 50ft Queenies

Northern Stage’s Queens of the North season includes two powerful tales that feature larger than life women taking the spotlight. ‘Dr Frankenstein’ sees Victoria Frankenstein dabbling in the unknown, while ‘Hedda Gabler, This is Not a Love Story’ is a brand new version of Ibsen’s masterpiece.

Since its premiere in 1891, Henrik Ibsen’s Hedda Gabler has continually been restaged, reinterpreted and served as a springboard for other artists to launch themselves off into some wild flights of fancy (including a Norwegian hard-rock band named Black Debbath who recorded a song called Motörhedda Gabler which pulled off the rare feat of celebrating both Norway's greatest playwright and one of the UK's greatest rock bands).

But it’s little wonder that the play is so celebrated as it contains possibly the greatest stage role ever written for a woman, and is often described as ‘a female Hamlet’. One thing it isn’t is a love story, which is why this new version, written and directed by Greyscale Artistic Director, Selma Dimitrijevic, is sub-titled ‘This is Not a Love Story’. What it is, is a funny, shocking and powerful exploration of the nature of identity. It is also relevant to the world we live in today.

Selma Dimitrijevic: “I am not interested in what Hedda meant a hundred years ago, or how it’s been interpreted since. I am interested in what this play can tell us about today: what’s it like to be told you are something you are not; what do you do when you are not allowed to dress the way you want, speak the way you want or behave the way you want; and most importantly who has the right to create those rules and why.

“Hedda finds herself boxed into a life she never chose for herself and basically has only three options: to submit, to put a bullet in her own head, or to stick two fingers up at the world and change the rules.”

The cast includes Victoria Elliott (Get Carter, Northern Stage) as Hedda Gabler, Rachel Denning (The Vote, Donmar Warehouse) as Thea, Ed Gaugham (The Birthday Party, Royal Exchange) as Hedda’s husband, Tesman, Scott Turnbull (Gods Are Fallen and All Safety Gone, Greyscale) as Eilert Lövborg, Donald McBridge (Pitmen Painters, Live Theatre) as Judge Brack, Libby Davison (The Bill, ITV) as Aunt Julie, and Polly Frame (The Odyssey, English Touring Theatre) as Berte.

And, as part of the Queens of the North season, this same ensemble are also involved in a recasting of Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley’s Frankenstein. This brand new adaptation, again by Selma Dimitrijevic, is entitled Dr Frankenstein and follows the story of a visionary young woman born into a world not ready for her. It’s directed by Northern Stage’s Lorne Campbell who comments: “The novel was written by a woman and I’ve always read it as being about women – most likely influenced by Shelley’s mother, Mary Wollstonecraft, herself a writer and hugely influential early feminist thinker. It’s about responsibility, but from a female perspective, so it seemed fitting that our Dr Frankenstein was a woman.

“Shelly was writing against a backdrop of a Europe tearing itself to pieces, while the industrial revolution, imperial expansion and capitalism were forming the future. The Creature and how he is perceived stands as a metaphor for the ‘fear of the other’ – xenophobia, racism, sexism and the diminishing of those different from ourselves. Ultimately, it’s a drama about responsibility, about the inevitable consequences of action and the personal drama of how we choose to face, or try to avoid those consequences. In a world that is facing, or trying to avoid facing, the realities of financial crisis, globalisation, war in the middle east, the refugee crisis, climate change, Trump, Brexit etc this feels very pertinent.”

The Queens of the North season will also include Leaving (23 February-4 March) a new play from Curious Monkey about young people leaving the care system and directed by Amy Golding; four women from across the centuries living, breathing and playing football in Offside (27-29 April) from Futures Theatre Company; and Present to Past: Reclaiming Work by Women (22 & 25 February), forgotten plays by 17th Century female writers brought back to life.

Hedda Gabler, This is Not a Love Story, Thursday 16 February-Wednesday 8 March, various times, tickets from £15.50; Dr Frankenstein, Friday 3 February-Saturday 11 March, various times, from £15.50. Special offer: you can book top price seats for both shows for £30. More information and booking details on all of the Queens of the North season from: northernstage.co.uk