The Wild Duck

© Heidrun Löhr

© Heidrun Löhr

Barbican Theatre

Simon Stone’s Belvoir Company’s Wild Duck is a revelation, its impact cataclysmic.
Who having seen this will ever now ever be able to forget the moment of revelation of Helvig’s rightful parentage with a thunderclap of sound and sudden day glow lighting.

Stone sets his remarkable production within a glass screen through which you can just discern us, the audience. Theatre bared, open, naked.

Stone and co-writer Chris Ryan’s 75 minute contemporised version of Ibsen’s family drama exerts an extraordinary grip that, for once, had the Barbican’s largely student audience on the edge of their seats. Who in this audience wouldn’t identify with the kind of domestic banter that goes between Brendan Cowell’s Hjalmar and his bespectacled, schoolgirl daughter Hedvig? Or wince at John Gaden’s womanising Haakon Werle (coming from Australia you can’t but associate with Rupert Murdoch) marrying yet again a woman some thirty years younger?

The initial story with its domestic everyday trivia rattles through like a bullet train until, when tragedy strikes, the pace slows as if hitting the buffers.

Realism meets artifice with amplified dialogue and characters framed, like scientific specimens inside the huge glass screen. The sense of precariousness – and Ibsen’s symbolism – is heightened, too, by the appearance of a live duck, splashing in its own small water tank or lovingly cradled in the arms of Richard Piper’s Ekdal, the partner who took the rap for the calculating Werle and ended up in prison.

Ekdal, the man still in touch with Nature if at one remove – he grows a plastic forest in his attic room to replace the local forest that has been denuded – is also the one who platitudinously tries to comfort the fallen Gina, Hedvig’s mother with `love conquers all’.

But as so often with Ibsen, it doesn’t. Wild Duck is another example of the sins of the father being visited with tragic consequences on future generations.

Australia’s Belvoir Sydney company, familiar to British audiences through their wonderful family epic, Cloudstreet confirm their stature with this marvellous production and cast who capture the play’s distress and pain with an entirely new, devastating immediacy.

A fitting finale to a fascinating Ibsen season.

First published in Reviewsgate Oct 2014