Female actor looking to the right wearing a face mask, male actor behind her reading Hedda, also masked

Lucy Kirkwood’s Hedda in a unique experiment at Bristol Old Vic

Published on:
26th October 2020

This November, Bristol Old Vic Theatre School joins forces with Bristol Old Vic for a startling experimental production of Lucy Kirkwood’s Ibsen-inspired fantasy HeddaThe production will play simultaneously to a live audience in the theatre, once called “the most beautiful in the world” (Peter O’Toole), and to a paying audience in the comfort of their own homes, while seeking to capture the magic of live performance in the atmospheric theatre, so that it can be experienced in real time all over the world.

For the first time, Bristol Old Vic Theatre School’s graduating year of actors and technical theatre students will be joined by the school’s film students for this unique experiment.

Working with cinematographer Mike Fox and Bristol Old Vic Artistic Director Tom Morris, the students will attempt to capture the liveness of the event in a way that celebrates the famous intimacy of Bristol Old Vic’s historic Theatre and borrows from stylistic innovations in TV coverage of sport, music and comedy.

Directed by BOVTS Artistic Director Jenny Stephens, Hedda is a bold new version of Ibsen’s tragic masterpiece, Hedda Gabler, and was first seen at The Gate Theatre in 2008. In Kirkwood’s version, Ibsen’s nineteenth-century heroine is relocated to present-day London, to startling effect. Hedda, still mourning for the father she adored, returns from honeymoon with a husband she doesn’t love, to a flat and a pregnancy she doesn’t want. A “Hedda for our times” (Guardian), she is trapped by her past and terrified of her future, and finds herself caught between three men. In the end, something has to give.

The announcement of this collaboration also marks the Theatre School’s 74th birthday and the first production of new Principal/CEO Fiona Francombe’s tenure. Previously founding Director of The Bottle Yard Studios in Bristol, Fiona took up her role as Principal of the Theatre School in the Summer.

Speaking today Fiona Francombe said:
“Bristol Old Vic and the Theatre School have nurtured and enjoyed a close partnership for over 70 years and I’m delighted we are once again working collaboratively this Autumn. Performing and working in professional theatre venues is an essential part of our students’ training and I’m pleased the School is playing such an important role in the reopening of the theatre industry, especially in Bristol. On a personal level, I’m excited to see the production of Hedda come together; the marrying of in-person theatre with livestream cinematography aims to provide a unique and immersive experience, making it possible for those who cannot be there in person to enjoy the thrill of live performance.”

Bristol Old Vic Theatre School Artistic Director Jenny Stephens said:
“We’re thrilled to be at Bristol Old Vic as we work creatively together to combine a live theatre performance with digital streaming. We have over seventy years of artistic collaboration to draw on; students and seasoned professionals are working together with energy, imagination and resourcefulness to forge an exciting and innovative presentation.

Bristol Old Vic Artistic Director Tom Morris said:
“Even in the eye of the pandemic we are following the inspiring experimental values of our trusted collaboration with Bristol Old Vic Theatre School. Over the last five years we’ve seized a series of opportunities to work with the school; from the definitive generation gap King Lear with Tim West, Stephanie Cole, David Hargreaves and the entire graduating year of 2016, to the New Plays In Rep season which unveiled a field of astonishing talent in 2019. This year, Hedda will allow both theatre and school to leap much further into the experimental world of live stream hybrid than either of us could by ourselves. There will be shots you would never expect to see in streamed theatre.  There will be camera techniques more familiar from sports and wildlife TV than theatre capture.  And there will be discoveries which will shed new light on this pioneering field.”

Priority tickets for the socially distanced in-person audience for Hedda at Bristol Old Vic will go on sale Wed 28 Oct at 2pm, with general sale on Thursday 29th.

I’m constantly delighted by the talent, commitment and drive of our students. Their curiosity and joy in the work gives us all energy and keeps me on my toes! My goal is to ensure that their voices serve their acting - both in theatre and recorded media. They need to be able to project, learn accents, respond to a wide variety of texts and have a voice that is healthy and be able to sustain long tours and tough filming schedules. This involves them working extremely hard – but having fun as well. When the new students see the final year students in production for the first time I know they’ll come into class the next day fully understanding the high standard they’re working to achieve. Carol Fairlamb, Head of Voice