BELGIAN director Ivo van Hove’s National Theatre production of Hedda Gabler will visit the Grand Opera House, in York, next February but the more immediate Yorkshire stop on its nationwide travels will be Hull New Theatre from tonight.

Adapted by Closer playwright Patrick Marber, this bold, modern interpretation of Henrik Ibsen’s 1891 Norwegian play will feature Lizzy Watts in the title role of the free-spirited, terminally bored Hedda.

What drew van Hove to Hedda Gabler for his National Theatre debut and why do this play now? “Well, there are a few masterpieces in the world of the theatre and I think this is really Ibsen’s masterpiece. But more than that, it’s also a very personal play,” he says.

“It was written when Ibsen was quite old, ten years after A Doll’s House, and you feel that there is a real urgency for him to write this. And it’s very awkward because this character of Hedda is not so sympathetic, actually. She’s not someone that you can empathise with immediately. I believe it’s actually a portrait of himself. He had an urgency to tell a story about somebody who feels totally isolated from relationships, from the world.”

Living in the 21st century, not the 19th, it made no sense to van Hove to make the play a museum piece about the past. “I feel always as a theatre director an obligation to talk about people, humans, themes that matter today, not things that mattered in the past,” he reasons.

“With Hedda Gabler, I don’t think that Ibsen really dealt with an important theme but more with a condition of human beings and a condition of a society. So I began by writing a little note, some thoughts written down about the play. I put a title above it: Sign of the Times. And that’s what I feel, that Hedda Gabler today is about giving audiences a sign of our times, of the emotional emptiness that we have to deal with; of not really being able to make a change, even when we want it, even when we have every possibility to do exactly that. Sometimes there’s an inhibition in ourselves and we don’t know why.”

During his preparation and research, van Hove was struck by how Ibsen’s domestic drama was not so much a play about middle-class society in the 19th century, but really a suicide play. “I think the suicide, the self-destruction, the ultimate self-destruction is deep inside Hedda long before the play started. So, it’s not because of this marriage with Tesman that she commits this horrible or inescapable deed. It’s really deep inside her, this urge to destroy, and when there is nothing to destroy any more, to destroy oneself,” he says.

“You can be very poor but very happy. You can have a lot of money and be totally unhappy. Hedda Gabler is full of nuances, full of details, full of different visions. That’s what makes this an enigmatic play. Why does she do it? You never really know. We always try to figure out, but you’ll never really know. And that’s what makes it so mesmerising to watch.”

Van Hove adds: “I think that a lot of authors today should be really very jealous of Ibsen for creating a character so rich and mesmerising. The best actresses have played Hedda and the riddle is still not solved, which is great.”

The National Theatre’s Hedda Gabler is on tour at Hull New Theatre, tonight until Saturday; Grand Opera House, York, February 20 to 24 2018. Box office: Hull, 01482 300306 or at; York, 0844 871 3024 or at