Interview: Adrian Noble 


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Award-winning British director Adrian Noble fills Sarah Cestau in on the Cantonese version of Henrik Ibsen drama Hedda Gabler

There’s no director alive today quite like Adrian Noble. The former artistic head of Britain’s Royal Shakespeare Company is known for his talent when it comes to reinventing classic plays, which has led to plenty of critical acclaim, awards (more than 20 Olivier Award nominations) and a following that is almost cult-like in its admiration for Noble’s Midas touch. His fame is of, well, dare we say it, Shakespearean proportions.

Noble resigned from the Royal Shakespeare Company in the early 2000s, citing his desire to explore other theatrical pursuits. Now, as part of Hong Kong’s seventh edition of the local and international cross-boundary New Vision Arts Festival, he travels to our shores to direct Henrik Ibsen’s 19th century psychological drama Hedda Gabler, performed by a strictly Hong Kong cast. We speak with Noble prior to the opening and question him about this piece’s complexities – and how he’s tackling the fact it’s being performed in Cantonese here in Hong Kong...

Pleasure to meet you, Adrian. This forthcoming production is in Cantonese. Is this the first time you’ve directed a non-English play?
No, actually. I did it once in Japan for the comedy The Twelfth Night. That was quite challenging because I couldn’t spot the funny moments. Now, with this classic piece in Cantonese, we are twice away from the original material in Norwegian. I work from an English translation that is translated again into Cantonese.

What are the difficulties when a piece is translated twice?

It demands a lot of work in rehearsal to make sure the impact of the translation is correct. Not just the meaning of it but also the emotional punch. You can hear where they’re not making a change of thought or action. You can hear it and when it’s too heavy or too light, you can feel it. So that’s quite interesting.

Have you ever directed Hedda Gabler before?
I have directed this play before but I think this adaptation is different because we are performing it in an arena. Its design profoundly affects the relationship between the audience and the material. The work with the stage and actors has to be considered in a completely different way.

What attracted you to Hedda Gabler?
It’s a classic. It’s old but there are layers of meaning. Also echoes of meaning, which reverberate out from the play. For example, if you’re in a particular room, there’s a particular acoustic that changes if you go to a cathedral or wherever. Classics are challenging for a director because you try to capture all the echoes of a specific acoustic.

Have you downplayed any shocking aspects of Hedda Gabler to avoid sensationalism?
No. It isn’t a sensationalist play because there’s a logic that leads Hedda Gabler [SPOILER ALERT] to commit suicide. I think it was more shocking in the time that it was premiered than it is now.

The role of Hedda Gabler still resonates strongly in today’s society, though. Why?
It’s much more about a marriage than a woman committing suicide. The suicide part is pretty interesting in itself but also the anatomy of a marriage is very interesting. Everyone knows she’s going to kill herself. Everybody knows it because ultimately that’s what happens in theatre! So the interest is not really whether she is going to kill herself or not, but about how she arrives to that point and on how it affects the people around her.

Would you call Hedda Gabler a 21st century woman?
She is a 19th century woman. Her story is about the position of a woman in society at that historical moment. But the meaning, the dilemma that she finds herself in – a woman who is in a marriage without love, who seeks passionate love affairs – echoes very powerfully even today. It resonates even more when you set it in that [19th century] period because you see all of the things that restrict her liberty. The modernity of the play comes from the very subversive writing and, most of all, the way that suicide is written about.

Hedda Gabler
Nov 6-9 at 8pm, plus 3pm on Nov 8 & 9, Cultural Centre, Studio Theatre. Tickets: urbtix.hk; $360, $420.

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