Plays by Henrik Ibsen

video Hedda Gabler (BBC film adaptation)

BBC Video
Type: Video

Ibsen's classic story of a woman who sets out to destroy her husband and his smug, middle-class attitudes, but instead finds herself having to make a grave decision. This television production is related to the 1991 Abbey Theatre, Dublin production which transferred to the West End. Fiona Shaw had played the lead role in that production which was also directed by Deborah Warner.


A BBC production in association with WGBH Boston. Director: Deborah Warner; Writer: Henrik Ibsen; Producer: Simon Curtis. Starring: Fiona Shaw (Mind Games), Brid Brennan, Donal McCann (The Serpent's Kiss), Stephen Rea (The Crying Game), Nicholas Woodeson (The Avengers).

Distributed under licence from Educational Publishers LLP

Hedda Gabler (trans. Friel)

Faber and Faber
Type: Text

Hedda Gabler returns, dissatisfied, from a long honeymoon. Bored by her aspiring academic husband, she foresees a life of tedious convention. And so, aided and abetted by her predatory confidante, Judge Brack, she begins to manipulate the fates of those around her to devastating effect.

Brian Friel's version of Ibsen's Hedda Gabler premiered at the Gate Theatre, Dublin, in September 2008, to celebrate the theatre's birthday, eighty years after the Gate's inaugural production of Ibsen's Peer Gynt.

Hedda Gabler (trans. Meyer)

Bloomsbury Publishing
Type: Text

Hedda Gabler is a hard and brilliant tragedy on the purposelessness of life, and a comment on the difficulty of finding personal fulfilment in the stifling world of late nineteenth century bourgeois society, particularly for women.

The eponymous Hedda is an electrically complex woman bored to death by her suburban life. Recently married to George Tesman, an academic happily absorbed in his obscure research, she returns from their honeymoon to a handsomely furnished house and a meaningless existence. In the drawing room, with an insidious judge, a wayward visionary writer and his loyal wife, she impulsively creates a dark, mercurial, anxious drama.

Ibsen wrote Hedda Gabler in Munich in 1890 shortly before his return to Norway. The play initially met with universal condemnation and misunderstanding. This translation was first performed in 1960 at the 4th Street Theatre, New York.

John Gabriel Borkman (trans. Eldridge)

Bloomsbury Publishing
Type: Text

A scorching indictment of nineteenth century capitalism, Ibsen’s penultimate play paints a devastating picture of selfish ambition.

John Gabriel Borkman paces alone in an upstairs room. Downstairs, his wife Gunhild waits for their son to vindicate the family name. They have lived on separate floors for eight years, following Borkman’s imprisonment for fraud on an enormous scale. Gunhild’s twin sister Ella, who was also in love with Borkman, arrives – she is dying, and comes to lay her claim to Erhart, the nephew whom she brought up during Borkman’s incarceration.

The atmosphere is impossibly suffocating, ready to crack, and the contest over the affections of the reluctant Erhart brings the submerged conflict screaming on to the stage. John Gabriel Borkman is a work of cold poignancy etched with comedy, a portrait of men and women who have nothing left to lose.

This version, translated by David Eldridge, premiered in 2007 at the Donmar Warehouse, London.

The Lady from the Sea (trans. Eldridge)

Bloomsbury Publishing
Type: Text

Ibsen's lyrical and still startlingly modern masterpiece vibrantly explores the constrained social position of women. When the lighthouse keeper's daughter Ellida meets the widower Dr Wangel, she tries to put her long-lost first love far behind her and begin a new life as a wife and stepmother. But the tide is turning, an English ship is coming down the fjord, and the undercurrents threaten to drag a whole family beneath the surface in this passionate and sweeping drama. Ellida must choose between the solid and reliable values of the land and the fluid, mysterious and frightening attraction of the sea.

David Eldridge's translation is subtle, faithful and sensitive to Ibsen's language, and makes this classic play accessible to the English reader without compromising any of the original's intensely poetic and atmospheric tone. This version of The Lady from the Sea was first performed in 2010 at the Royal Exchange Theatre, Manchester.

The Master Builder (trans. Edgar)

Nick Hern Books
Type: Text

David Edgar's version of Ibsen's 1892 play The Master Builder, based on a literal translation by Desireé Kongerød McDougall, is a compelling study of obsessive determination and the darker side of ambition. It was commissioned by Chichester Festival Theatre and first performed at the Minerva Theatre, Chichester, on 9 September 2010.

Halvard Solness, a leading local architect, is at the end of his career. A single-minded man of angry pride, trapped in a frozen marriage to Aline, he is terrified of being eclipsed by the younger generation snapping at his heels. A decade after their first meeting, the charismatic young Hilde Wangel comes back into his life and inspires him to even greater heights. But as he embarks on his latest towering achievement, the pressure threatens not to renew him, but to destroy him instead.

In his foreword to the published script, David Edgar notes that 'The most obvious change that I’ve made to The Master Builder is changing its shape from three acts to two. ... In my version... the interval comes not after Solness’s first conversation with Hilde (where Ibsen places his first act-change), nor at Hilde’s first entrance twenty minutes earlier (which a screenwriter would see as the end of the first act). It comes at the moment when Solness decides to tell Hilde everything, thus fully arming her for the rest of the play.'

Edgar also observes that, 'In The Master Builder, the big linguistic question is how you translate Hilde Wangel... . Some previous translations tend towards the argot of an Angela Brazil schoolgirl (‘terribly exciting’, ‘frightfully thrilling’), which feels quaint today. I have modified the Michael Meyer rule: there are no anachronisms, but I have allowed myself words and expressions which, while retaining their common meaning, have taken on a particular, contemporary youth-speak patina. So while I wouldn’t use ‘wicked’ (whose youth-use reverses its conventional meaning) or expressions like ‘Hallo?’ (as an emphatic rather than a salutation), I have used words like ‘brilliant’ and ‘magic’, and expressions like ‘I don’t think so’.'

The Chichester production was directed by Philip Franks and designed by Stephen Brimson Lewis, with Michael Pennington as Halvard Solness, Maureen Beattie as Aline Solness, Pip Donaghy as Dr Herdal, John McEnery as Knut Brovik, Philip Cumbus as Ragnar Brovik, Emily Wachter as Kaja Fosli and Naomi Frederick as Hilde Wangel.

Peter Gynt (Adapt. Hare)

Faber and Faber
Type: Text

In this radical new version of Peer Gynt, David Hare kidnaps Henrik Ibsen's most famous hero and runs away with him into the twenty-first century.

Stripped of fretwork and greenery, the play is projected into a freewheeling modern world of music, dance, poetry, weddings, coronations, trolls and two-headed children as Peter steals a bride and embarks on an extraordinary lifetime's journey before returning home, finally, to Scotland.

David Hare's Peter Gynt posits the same fundamental question the great Norwegian asked in 1867: does a belief in individualism help or hinder us in trying to live purposefully in the present day?

Pillars of the Community (trans. Adamson)

Faber and Faber
Type: Text

Calamity strikes when Bernick's business prowess and pristine reputation are threatened by the revelation of a long-buried secret. Desperate to dodge exposure in the kowtowing local community, Bernick devises a pitiless plan which, by a shocking twist of fate, risks the one life he holds dear.

This rarely performed thriller is set amid a society struggling against the rush of capitalism, the lure of America and the passionate beginnings of the fight for female emancipation.

Samuel Adamson version of Pillars of the Community premiered at the National Theatre, London, in October 2005.

The Wild Duck (trans. Eldridge)

Bloomsbury Publishing
Type: Text

Enthralling and unsettling, The Wild Duck is a play of keen psychology and absolute truth.

Gregers Werle, the son of a wealthy businessman, is an uncompromising idealist, and invites himself into the house of Hjalmar Ekdal, his childhood friend. His intention is to free the Ekdal family from the mesh of lies on which their contented lives are based: Gregers can see delusion, fantasy, and deep-seated deception surrounding Hjalmar, his father, his wife Gina, and his daughter Hedvig. But Gregers drowns the family even as he is trying to raise them up, his well-meaning investigations shredding the lies they have told themselves in order to live. The Wild Duck’s title is taken from the wounded bird which is nursed and kept in the attic by Hedvig, an acute symbol of resistance to reality which is the crux of this rich and piercing play.

The Wild Duck was published in 1884 and premiered in 1885 at Bergen in Norway. This version by David Eldridge opened in 2005 at the Donmar Warehouse, London.

Picture of Henrik Ibsen

Henrik Ibsen (1828-1906) was a Norwegian dramatist and poet, who has often been called the father of modern drama. In his mature works Ibsen used naturalistic settings and dialogue to expose the corruption and hypocrisy of middle-class life. His work is valued for its technical mastery, penetrating psychological insight, and profound symbolism.

His first play, the romantic Catilina (1850), written under the pseudonym of Brynjolf Bjarme, was followed by several historical dramas in verse; these included The Burial Mound (1854) and The Feast of Solhoug (1856), inspired by Norwegian folk songs. His most impressive works were written after he left Norway. The verse tragedy Brand was published to considerable acclaim in 1866 while Peer Gynt (1867; first staged 1876), a portrait of the author as an undisciplined and unprincipled young man, established his international reputation.

In 1871 Ibsen began the play that he considered his greatest work, Emperor and Galilean (1876), a 10-act 'double drama' based on the life of Julian the Apostate. It has seldom been revived. The first of his four social plays, the works that represent the essence of Ibsenism, was Pillars of Society (1877). This was followed by A Doll's House (1879), which remains the most widely performed of his works, Ghosts (1881), which uses sexually transmitted disease as a symbol of the guilt of a corrupt society, and An Enemy of the People (1882). Hedda Gabler (1890) explores the isolation of the individual, while The Master Builder (1892) focuses on the psychology of the artist.