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A CurtainUp London Review
The Wild Duck

"The wild ducks are flying around again."
— Dr Relling
The Wild Duck
Grace Doherty as Hedwig
(Photo: Manuel Harlan)
I wonder if it would have made more sense if I had seen a conventional Wild Duck first my daughter's review here in 2005? From the beginning the charismatic Kevin Harvey as Gregory Woods breaks the fourth wall with a microphone to speak an aside to the audience about truth. He tells us that whatever we are seeing it cannot be Ibsen's truth because that is written in Danish-Norwegian. The other actors similarly break with acting to comment on the play making it almost like a lesson about Ibsen. This is a version of Ibsen's play adapted by the acclaimed British director Robert Icke.

If Gregory Woods (the character names are partially anglicised) is the purist who thinks that the truth will release everyone, James Ekdal (Edward Hogg) lives in a fantasy that his planned invention will bring fortune, Gina Ekdal (Lyndsey Marshall) is the practical one. She makes do and patches up the family's existence whether in the photography business or in the housekeeping protecting both her daughter and her husband. Gregory, who has just returned home after many years away, rejects his father Charles (Nicholas Day)'s affluent home after they argue about Gina Ekdal. Instead Gregory rents a room in the Ekdals' run-down house.

The Ekdal home has pieces of furniture and carpet added to it during the play and the interval. I think the idea was that it should be like a photograph slowly developing. The eponymous wild duck is placed in a box, it is a handbag "borrowed" from someone in the audience which is said to be the duck. Like another slowly developing photograph, after the interval, a real wild duck comes out of the box.

James Ekdal's father Nicholas (Nicholas Farrell) was sent to prison after fraudulent accounts were discovered in the company he ran with Charles Woods. He is now a broken man with a drink problem who shoots captive rabbits in the forest in the loft space. This is where the wild duck also lives having been winged by a shot instead of shot dead. The wounded duck is rescued. The duck is probably symbolic of Gregory, who has been hurt by his father's behaviour towards his mother when she was alive, and who insists on the truth even though this may be extremely damaging. There is another contender for the wild duck imagery.

Ibsen described his play as a tragi-comedy but there is precious little comedy in the Icke version with all this Norwegian angst. We know, because in an aside with the mic, Gregory tells us that Ibsen fathered a child with a very young serving woman whom he supported for fourteen years but refused to acknowledge. In this play a child is given financial support by her natural father but the secret is kept with disastrous consequences.

The child is Hedwig (Grace Doherty/Clara Read) whose genetic inheritance is tragic. Not here is the classical Greek idea that blindness will bring inner sight. Lyndsey Marshall's character Gina Ekdal is faced with a situation she cannot patch up or darn and she is perceived by the inept James to further betray him by taking money for Gina's future.

Kevin Harvey as Gregory has a good stage presence and sensitivity but his character is vilified for the consequent disruption his addiction to honesty brings. This seems unfair until he encourages Hedwig to sacrifice what is most precious to her when his actions could be regarded as meddling. It is the doctor John Relling (Rick Warden), the Ekdals' other tenant who scolds and attacks Gregory.

Bunny Christie's set has a surprise in the attic which looks like the first floor window of Marks and Spencer at Greenwich Peninsula but which is revealed to us late in the play like the final window of an advent calendar.

I'm sitting on the fence about Icke's production but as I write about it I start to appreciate it more.

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The Wild Duck
Written by Henrik Ibsen
Adapted and Directed by Robert Icke
Starring: Kevin Harvey, Edward Hogg, Lyndsey Marshall, Nicholas Farrell, Nicholas Day, Grace Doherty/Clara Read
With: Andrea Hall, Rick Warden
Design: Bunny Christie
Sound Design: Tom Gibbons
Lighting Design: Elliot Griggs
Fight Director: Tom McGurdy
Running time: Two Hours 55 minutes with an interval
Box Office: 020 7359 4404
Booking to 1st December 2018
Reviewed by Lizzie Loveridge based on 24th October 2018 performance at the Almeida, Upper Street London N1 1TA (Tube: The Angel)
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