The Wild Duck

BELVOIR STREET THEATRE: Director Simon Stone and his excellent cast and crew have devised an emotionally shattering production that takes us on a rollercoaster ride of extreme emotions.
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In The Wild Duck, director Simon Stone and his excellent cast and crew have devised a harrowing, emotionally shattering production that takes us on a rollercoaster ride of extreme emotions. What a way to start a new year and a new artistic directorship!

Originally written in 1894, Ibsen’s five act play has been reworked to just 90 minutes and six characters, making it startlingly fresh and contemporary.

After 15 years of self-imposed exile, Gregers Werle (Toby Schmitz) returns to town with some unfinished business, and releases a ticking time-bomb that shatters the world Hjalmar Ekdal (Ewen Leslie) has so painstakingly built up. Family skeletons in the closet are revealed, leading to unexpected disaster and tragedy. Is Gregers an evil manipulator or just the unfortunate catalyst of events?

Edkal (magnificently played by the towering Anthony Phelan) is, Lear-like, slowly descending into senility, yet still retains his dignity after a lifetime of ‘taking the fall’ (imprisonment and disgrace) for his old friend and business partner, Werle Senior (John Gaden, snappy as ever as the fading, philandering CEO with massive secrets to hide and about to be married to a much younger second wife). Edkal lives in a tiny cramped flat with his son Hjalmar, daughter-in-law Gina (Anita Hegh), granddaughter Hedvig (Eloise Mignon) and Lucky the duck.

There are outstanding performances from all concerned. Leslie is sensational as the seemingly happily married Hjalmar, whose sudden break from Gina and harsh rejection of his daughter is completely unexpected. As torn, confused Hedvig, Mignon is brilliant, while Gina’s terrible situation is superbly portrayed by Hegh.

Ralph Myers’ linear set breaks down the ‘fourth wall’ of theatrical convention – clear reflective glass and bare walls (reminiscent of an observation cage at a zoo) so that the characters are intimately observed, almost painfully so; and digital surtitles are used to indicate the day and time of this week when events catastrophically implodes.

All the actors’ voices and actions are heavily miked, and this enhanced realism further increases the emotional intensity of the text, which distills events into a series of primary, important, and then not-so-essential promises; exploring the disintegration of marriage and relationships, and a quest for truth (but in this day and age, what is ‘truth’, anyway?)

The Wild Duck is a heartbreakingly intense analysis of deception, denial and a dysfunctional family, staged in contemporary dress (Tess Schofield’s excellent costume designs) and using colloquial language and contemporary props such as laptops and mobiles.

Lucky, the wild duck of the title, has a fabulous time centre stage, at times petted by Hedvig and Edkal, sometimes preening in its clear glass box. Is it symbolic of the beauty of nature and of life lived as it should be lived?

The Wild Duck

By Simon Stone with Chris Ryan after Henrik Ibsen
Directed by Simon Stone
With John Gaden, Anita Hegh, Ewen Leslie, Eloise Mignon, Anthony Phelan & Toby Schmitz

Belvoir Street Theatre
February 12 – March 27

For more details see the production’s Arts Hub event listing.

Lynne Lancaster
About the Author
Lynne Lancaster is a Sydney based arts writer who has previously worked for Ticketek, Tickemaster and the Sydney Theatre Company. She has an MA in Theatre from UNSW, and when living in the UK completed the dance criticism course at Sadlers Wells, linked in with Chichester University.