There’s a live duck on stage but it isn’t Ibsen’s

There’s a live duck on stage but it isn’t Ibsen’s

Robert Tanitch reviews The Wild Duck at Barbican Theatre, London EC2

What is on the Barbican stage is not Ibsen’s Wild Duck but a modern Australian play by Simon Stone and Chris Ryan inspired by Ibsen’s Wild Duck. The production by Stone originated at Sydney’s celebrated Belvoir Theatre.

The script has been completely rewritten and cut to 80 minutes. The action takes place in a glass box and the actors are miked and occasionally distorted. The scenes are short and sharp and punctuated by black-outs and sur-titles which give the day and time. There is a live duck on stage.

The story line is the same.  Hjalmar and Gina Ekdal are happily married. Gregers Werle, Hjalmar’s best friend, who believes in always telling the truth, tells Hjalmar that Gina had an affair with Gregers’ father when she was his housekeeper and that his daughter Hedvig was fathered by him. Hjalmar’s immediate reaction is to reject his wife and daughter.

The characters may have the names Ibsen gave them but they are now modern Australian characters in their own right. Hjalmar is no longer a comic figure.

Hedvig is not a sweet innocent 14-year-old but a stroppy 16-year-old schoolgirl, who has lost her virginity. She forces her attentions on Gregers, who isn’t as warped as he is in Ibsen.

The drama is fraught and traumatic. There are fine performances by Brendan Cowell and Anita Hegh as Hajlmar and Gena and Richard Piper as old Ekdal. The sound effects, when Hajlmar rejects Gina and when Hedwig shoots herself, are particularly effective.

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The Wild Duck image credit Heidrun Löhr