Pros: The Wild Duck is a witty and inventive adaptation of Ibsen’s masterpiece.
Cons: The play lacks in subtext and can sometimes feel more intellectual than emotional.
Henrik Ibsen wrote The Wild Duck in 1884. He was white, Norwegian, and fifty-six. He had fathered an illegitimate child. His father was declared bankrupt. This is the truth, we are told, but from the very moment this word is uttered, at the beginning of the play, we are invited to question everything. What is the truth of a person, when so much of their lives is spent pretending?
The Wild Duck is a smart and funny retelling of Ibsen’s classic, that uses a family drama to explore the nature of truth, authenticity, and idealism. It tells the story of Gregory Woods, the estranged son of the wealthy Charles, who returns home after a period of absence. But he very quickly causes problems for James Ekdal and his family, as his pursuit of truth creates tension in a family full of secrets.
Robert Icke’s adaptation is highly inventive, taking creative liberties with form, content, and narration. Throughout the play, one microphone is employed by actors to express their true thoughts and desires. These asides are not only comic, they also help blur the line between fact and fiction, as characters say one thing but mean something else entirely.
The performances are all perfectly observed, compelling, and nuanced. Edward Hogg is fascinating as James Ekdal, whose attempt to appear the perfect family man is shattered by repressed insecurities and pride. Lyndsey Marshal excels as his long-suffering wife Gina, who has learnt how to navigate her husband and bring balance to their household, but at a dubious cost. Kevin Harvey is also captivating as the outwardly genial but inwardly tortured Gregory, whose friendly smiles hide a darker purpose.
As mentioned, Icke has made some interesting changes to the original, particularly regarding genre. Magic realism tends to get thrown about a lot when describing anything bordering on the fantastic, but Icke’s adaptation truly deserves to be named as such. The Wild Duck is an almost magical experience, toying with fact and fantasy, and delivering moments of otherworldly awe.
But this version can be too philosophical for its own good. The play lacks subtext, with dialogue that often feels more like a discussion of themes than genuine human interaction. There are also repeated references to Ibsen and how his play may present an example of life imitating art. While this may be an interesting discussion to have at the dinner table, the continual reminders of artifice and authorship sometimes threaten to get in the way of the drama and any emotional connection with the characters and their struggles.
The Wild Duck is a very fine adaptation of Henrik Ibsen’s play, and will delight anyone looking for intelligent, bold, and thought-provoking theatre.
Author: Henrik Ibsen (adapted by Robert Icke)
Director: Robert Icke
Producer: Lloyd Thomas
Box Office: 020 7359 4404
Booking Link: https://almeida.co.uk/whats-on/the-wild-duck/15-oct-2018-1-dec-2018#open-calendar
Booking Until: 1st December 2018