The Wild Duck at Almeida Theatre
Robert Icke loves a gimmick. Uncle Vanya‘s constantly revolving set. Mary Stuart‘s role-deciding coin toss. Even the super-slickness of his Hamlet and Oresteia have the whiff of novelty, however successful. The Wild Duck is no different: here Henrik Ibsen’s classic becomes wrapped in commentary, a combination of actor’s workshop, director’s cut DVD extra and lecture. And while that sounds insufferable on paper, as with seemingly everything Icke does it blossoms into something rather revealing.
After a long, self-imposed absence, Gregory Woods (Kevin Harvey) has returned home. Disgusted by his wealthy father (Nicholas Day), he moves into the spare room of James Ekdal (Edward Hogg) and his wife Gina (Lyndsey Marshal), determined to inject a dose of reality into their lives.
The director has the actors basically give the audience an audio tour of the play, microphone in hand, from Ibsen-focused biographical detail to the interior thoughts and feelings of characters that daren’t be spoken out loud. Initially, the effect is one of distance, forcing a sense of artifice and deconstruction of storytelling on each scene that can sometimes get in the way of what would otherwise be an excellent modern update of the text.
It’s in the second half that the trick fully clicks. The concept of the microphone as inner/exterior voice is dismantled, and then reintroduced, and then further messed with in a way that heightens the emotional tenor of an already tragic narrative while probing the questions of truth and “life-lies” posed by the playwright.
Not too subtly, Icke appears to have at least one eye on social media, and what we allow a person to be defined by. For what else are Twitter and the like if not an online microphone? Gregory represents the “virtuous” truth-seekers, who equate the revelation of wrongdoing with the enacting of change. He views his father as an insidious capitalist force, who weaponises his sort code and account number as a method of control. And, indeed, the elder Woods does.
But by viewing him solely through this lens, Gregory misses the man – as he misses James and Gina and their daughter Hedwig (Clara Read) for the image of an ideal – and in doing so underestimates the chaos wrought by his quest for what he believes is a higher form of justice and reality. It is, perhaps, an odd, difficult message about truth, one that’s resolution maybe lies in the conflict between its differing social – relating to structures of class and wealth – and personal functions.
It should be made clear that The Wild Duck isn’t a one-man show. On a Bunny Christie set secretive with its wonders, the cast carry off the director’s (high) concept with aplomb. Harvey’s Gregory is blinded and naïve in his idealism, if never anything but well-meaning; Hogg’s James a man who wears a constantly slipping mask of jollity; and Marshal’s Gina a woman forced to hold the lives of others together.
Photo: Manuel Harlan
The Wild Duck is at Almeida Theatre from 15th October until 1st December 2018. For further information or to book visit the theatre’s website here.