June Brown as Hedda Gabler

June Brown as Hedda Gabler

Like Shakespeare, Wilde and Chekhov, the Norwegian Henrik Ibsen is a playwright whose name is easily recognisable to theatre-goers, and his plays have therefore always been popular choices for repertory theatre companies.

The role of Hedda in his 1890 play Hedda Gabler is a challenging one, and has come to be regarded as one of the yardsticks by which to measure an actress's calibre. The title, giving Hedda her maiden name of Gabler, is the first indication that she is unhappy in her new marriage to the bourgeois academic Tesman. Her restless dissatisfaction and the despairing realisation that she is pregnant and therefore trapped in her marriage, lead her to wreak havoc in the lives of those around her. In the last act, having driven one man to suicide, she goes offstage and shoots herself.

This photograph from the 1958 Birmingham Repertory Company production is of June Brown in the role of Hedda. In the same season she played Lady Macbeth opposite Albert Finney. Brown is these days better known for her role as Dot Cotton in EastEnders, another example of the prime training ground provided by the repertory system for a whole generation of actors.