My friend Miss Pink is playing the part of Aunt Julia in a production of Hedda Gabler. I was excited by this because I studied Ibsen at school and Uni. I remember thinking Hedda and A Doll’s House was great stuff. Now, I’m worried that I might have ruined the Ibsen experience for myself in the last fortnight.
Miss Pink needed to get the lines down, so she and I read out her scenes. She was Aunt Julia, and I was the maid Berte, Julia’s nephew George and Hedda. Unfortunately, I am to acting what the WA Labor Party is to good government. I have been around enough actors to know that it’s a talent first, then it becomes a skill and eventually a craft if you work at it. I’m a writer not a frustrated actor.
As Miss Pink said, “You don’t have to act, this is just for the lines.” I wondered if totally neutral and robot-like would be less distracting than my attempts to read the lines with some skerrick of human emotion. I set up the iTalk app on the iPhone to record the sound of a 120 year old play being exposed to enhanced torture techniques.
Miss Pink dived in. There seemed to be an awful lot of “George, my dear,” going on in this translation. I was annoyed by the character of Aunt Julia instantly. What a snob, I thought. Oops, my line. The maid Berte had quite a bit to say, I thought about giving it a bit of mockney, maybe give it a little Pauline Collins from Upstairs Downstairs, but ended up doing a bland, light-voiced whine. Then George appeared and spoke to Aunt Julia about how excellent he was and how much he adored Hedda. I tried to give George a bit of bass, but he really needed a slap. He was such an utter pill that I began feeling a bit sorry for Julia.
So I was invested in Ibsen from the get go. Even though some of the dialogue was either indifferently translated or hasn’t aged well. I could barely get past George’s declaration that his book was going to be about Medieveal Husbandry in Brabant. That’s Amazon Top 10, right there. And both Miss Pink and I giggled through the early segment when Aunt Julia thinks for a moment that Hedda might be pregnant. She is supposed to have “put on weight in the Tyrol,” a fine double entendre that I could barely get out without stifling my laughs and gasping for breath.
And when Hedda finally made her appearance, I flubbed it by doing my George voice instead. I had a choice with Hedda; Lady Bracknell with pantomime dame overtones or fey and lisping. Yep, I made the choice of men throughout the ages. Why do we think that being feminine somehow translates into sibilant androgyny with a rising inflection?
Although if you were to play back the audio, you’d discover that most of the vocal variation was going on in my mind. You’d hear a Miss Pink line, followed by the Man of One and a Half voices arguing, then agreeing about the slippers that poor old Aunt Rina embroidered by hand and then having a go at Aunt Julia’s hat and rapidly apologising to himself.
I’ve been impressed by how well Miss Pink has remembered her lines. I like to think it has something to do with my unexpected line readings on the audio that she plays as she’s driving. I guess the play’s director and Stanislavsky might have something to do with it as well.
I’m looking forward to seeing the actual production. I’ll be the one in the back row, mouthing the lines along with actors.