04 March 2012

Review: The Wild Duck

The Wild Duck
Malthouse presents a Belvoir production
21 February 2012
Merlyn Theatre
to 17 March


Melbourne's Hayloft Project gang flew their The Wild Duck back to the Malthouse from Belvoir Street with a swag of 2011 awards and the opening night anticipation was palpable.  Riveting in its intimacy, this is the kind of theatre that will ruin lesser productions for you. So book now and read the reviews later, because tickets are disappearing by the minute.

While Ibsen's 19th century naturalism and tragedy is often rejected for its obvious metaphor and an unnatural coincidental melodrama worthy of a daytime soap, re-workings (and re-readings) continue to reveal the genius of his storytelling. In a society where we demand to know the truth, this story asks if it's better to keep truth hidden and leaves its character knowing that if they could make even tiny decisions again, they wouldn't chose the truth.

Writers Simon Stone and Chris Ryan and dramaturg Eamon Flack have tightened it into three acts, stripped it back to reveal its soul and re-worked it to expose the web-like frailty of its world. Writers may cringe, but this re-writing of stories allows us to see that a writer's original words are not what makes us love them; it's story and the reflection of ourselves that takes a work from the admiration of our minds to the illogical love of our hearts.

Stone also directs. The duck and attic forrest metaphors are incorporated so delicately that all we can see is their beauty, and he builds a tension that is almost as unbearable as the truth that's revealed. There's a stop-breathing second when the audience know more than the characters and can see the inevitable end, yet Stone guides the story so we're still left shocked and hoping that someone will make a choice that fixes everything.

Ralph Myers's fish bowl design is initially disconcerting as we watch the glassed-in void like a huge screen TV. But, not only supplying a fourth wall, this remarkable design distances us from the inevitability of the story so much that we're drawn to its emotion, and the use of microphones brings us even closer with the sound of breath between sobs and the squelch of a kiss that makes you reach for tissues.

And none of this would mean much without an astonishing cast.  John Gaden, Anita Hegh, Ewen Leslie, Eloise Mignon, Anthony Phelan and Toby Schmitz's performances start with their on-stage relationships. They let us feel the unspoken actions between them and grasp the thoughts and feelings behind the words they use to hide their truths from each other. This creates an intimacy that makes you almost want to turn away to give them privacy.

This is the kind of performance that draws you in so deeply that even a live duck doesn't distract – a very cute live duck swimming in a perspex pond.

This is my benchmark production for 2012. If you're not creating work with this much passion, intelligence and understanding, why even bother.

This review appeared on AussieTheatre.com.

Photo by Pia Johnson

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