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The Wild Duck: Almeida Theatre

December 19, 2018

(seen at the afternoon performance on 7th November 2018)

Ibsen. Yawn. Icke. Yay. Pretty much my instant reaction on opening the Almeida’s email announcing the show. Not even close to my favourite dramatist… but if Robert Icke sees something in doing this old saw one more time, I’m willing to take the chance. My faith was well rewarded.

This is more “The Wild Duck, Dissected” than anything else. The protagonists are present. Parents and their daughter, a grandfather, a doctor, a returning friend. Dark secrets spill out at a rate that has an engrossed teenager gasp “oh no” in the silence of revelation. That alone tells us how the show hits the mark.

Better yet, a deceptively simple and effective device allows us to explore more fully character motivations – or understand why they are unable to express their emotions fully.

And so three hours moves along at fine pace. The empty stage (Bunny Christie on the finest form, Verity Sadler assisting) fills with emotion as a contemporary home is revealed as a war-zone and eventual mortuary of all emotions, not least hope.

Kevin Harvey (Gregory Woods) and Edward Hogg (James Ekdal) set up a battle that cannot avoid casualties. Their carefully modulated counter-stances are fundamental to the success of Icke’s concept, performances to be admired.

Lyndsey Marshal (Gina Ekdal) is the catalyst, a mother and wife doing what a mother and wife should – Marshal’s egg-shell characterisation only slowly being realised to impressive effect. Her interaction with daughter Clara Read (Hedwig Ekdal – who handles the last seconds of act one decently) are always telling. Same with Grandfather Nicholas Farrell (Francis Ekdal), besotted and himself hiding much beneath a military façade. Deluded yet consciously mendacious a difficult act that unusually does not lose sympathy.

In smaller roles, Nicholas Day (Charles Woods) hits the right balance of overbearing without making the production top-heavy. Rick Warden (John Relling) does likewise as an ambivalent doctor with clarity of vision. A note too for Andrea Hall (Anna Sowerby) for making much of a pivotal moment without making drama melodramatic.

The filleting and updating of the text, in common with previous Icke work, never slacks in intensity. Perhaps a little more time for reflection, without actors explanations, would have allowed the audience a trifle more analysis during the performance, but then that would deny the pleasure of the after-show mulling over. And there is a lot of that.

Ibsen can be exciting, relevant and carry strong messages for our own times. This production proves the point. Combined with fine performances it may not be quite the mega-revelation that was “Oresteia” or “Hamlet,” but it comes close to both. Try not to miss it.

 

4 stars.

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