BWW Interview: Paige Rattray of HEDDA at Queensland Theatre
Yesterday, I had the pleasure of giving Paige Rattray, the current associate director at Sydney Theatre Company and director of the bad-ass production of Hedda at Queensland Theatre, ring on the phone to interview her about her craftsmanship and creative visions behind her latest work. And here is what she had to say:
It is a trend for many theatre companies today, whether it be in or out of the borders of Australia, to produce and put on contemporary adaptions of classical works or works that are considered a part of the dramatic canon, so to speak. Why did Queensland Theatre and you decide to re-tell Hedda's story? Why not someone else's?
When I worked on Boys Will Be Boys (2015), I had such an amazing time working on that. Danielle, who plays Hedda, also worked with me on that show and played such an incredible protagonist who had such agency, drive and behaved really badly. That kind of made me realise how rare that is, that you get to see those women behaving badly who will stop at nothing to get what they want. It was such a joy and pleasure. Then it got us thinking about the great leading roles throughout history and the canon and we all agreed that Hedda is definitely one of those. In its time, the play was revolutionary in terms of the choice that Hedda makes at the end of not to be owned by killing herself. She's a bored housewife and she doesn't necessarily have agency, although at that time some believed that she did. It made me think about what she would look like today so I talked to Sam Strong about it and he too thought that it would be interesting to see what our Hedda would look like; what she would do etc. I sent it to Melissa Bubnic (the playwright) and at first she wasn't interested but then she asked if she could set it on the Gold Coast, to up the stakes and to have Hedda in a world of cashed-up bogans. This was to so that we could explore the class structure in Australia and make it more relevant to our audience.
Those who haven't seen it might not want to read the next response but as a reader of the original piece, I was a bit surprised, to say the least, about your change to the ending of the piece. What inspired that change?
From the beginning, we knew that we didn't want Hedda to kill herself. I thought to myself why the hell did she have to kill herself back then to win? It's ridiculous. The only really option we feel that she's left with is the be owned by Brack or to kill herself. So, we gave her the third option; to kill or to be killed. A lot of the audience members understand the original and instead, they walk away from the theatre feeling elated, cheering 'yeah!' instead of 'no!'. When you go away and unpack all of that, it's scary to think that that's how she wins.
Week three of rehearsals tends to be the intense week in the process; it was the week in which we talked about the two options the play could end with; whether we wanted Hedda to have an ending like Thea or an ending of her own. If you think about it, over the course of two days Hedda has killed two people and that is what she has to do to survive in the world. And, the cast was so open and so Ready to Play, we did not stop until we found our moments. We completely believed in ideas and the material, were all up for a challenge and most importantly, felt empowered by Hedda's story. This got us talking up collective conscience of women which has taken decades in the making but, it's getting to a point where I'm not sure how much more women can take until it snaps. It makes me wonder what will it look like- and hopefully it won't look like that. Its scary what the future looks like and we as a society need to make change.
Building on that, I think we need to make a change not just in terms of the treatment of women and their collective conscience, but the treatment of all marginalised groups or individuals, whether it be asylum seekers, refugees, members of the LGBTQI community etc. But moving onto the next question, I adored David Fleischer's set design and I felt that it played a role of its own on highlighting Hedda's interior thoughts and her psyche. And of course, for a such a powerhouse play you need a minimalistic set. How did those conversations between you and Fleischer emerge?
Hedda has such rich characters; it doesn't matter if a character is on for a short amount of time or a long amount of time. Each character has a great impact on both the audience and the story and we felt that we need a really clean canvas for them to come alive. The writing is dense and we didn't want anything to get in the way of that. We wanted the characters to live so we used the images of white mansions and concrete to provide that eerie light on the characters and what happens in the plot. In act three, Thea talks about the effects of what Hedda's business has on the outside world but then she's saying 'why are you so offended at what it looks like' and that (Hedda) is offended because it's happening in her backyard and we really used those lines to merge the space and Hedda's psychology.
As someone who has spent such a long time working on Hedda and thinking about who she is, do you think Hedda has taught you something new about yourself or the world we live in?
Since we are young, we are told to be careful and afraid and that story has been reinforced by television, songs, plays and stories that we read. We are constantly being told that we are victims and I just got really sick of it. By setting out to make a show in which Hedda would win, it showed me a lot about how you can talk about things on stage but not show the events that lead to the damage; like what happens to Thea. The play only lets us tell it on stage and not show us how she ended up with blood all over her face. When your lead character isn't a victim, there's a certain power that comes from that that both the audience and the performers take away. I think it shows that audiences, especially young women, want to see these stories and I'd love to continue to create works which my thirteen-year-old niece can see and not be told that she's a victim from the beginning.