Almeida Theatre, London – until 1 December 2018
Robert Icke clearly hopes to reinvigorate Ibsen the way he did for Shakespeare with the exceptional Andrew Scott Hamlet. His conversational, documentary production of The Wild Duck makes this complex morality play immediately accessible starting with Kevin Harvey’s smooth Scouser Gregory Woods, a man of almost irritatingly attractive and open likeability.
Harvey’s amiable lecturing – the bare walls and fluorescent lighting could be a night school classroom – seduces us into sympathy for the downtrodden Ekdal family, financially supported by his own father whose corruption and patriarchal immortalities include possibly impregnating Gina Ekdal, a role given new weight and agency in an excellent performance by Lyndsey Marshal.
In a really strong cast, special mentions go to Nicholas Farrell as ‘Old’ Ekdal processing complex injustices, alcoholism and pain, and Edward Hogg’s nervily insecure James Ekdal moving anxiously and jokily from fond father to Angry Young Man.
I have to mention the young actress playing Hedvig Ekdal – Clara Read on press night – she’s marvellously smart and stoical as befits a former ‘Matilda’, and her interactions with the adult cast are perfection. She clearly understands the play much more than I did when impersonating Hedvig in an all-boys school when I was 12.
The Wild Duck is about truth, and whether or not demanding honesty improves or wrecks the lives it affects. It’s often played out like a Greek tragedy, but Icke’s preference is to keep things informal as long as possible and to build the tensions really steadily. At nearly three hours, this is a slow-roasted duck.
But hang in there: after the interval everything changes – including a breathtaking reveal in Bunny Christie’s initially stark set – when the pieces of the onstage puzzle fit together in a truly electric conclusion.
Still slow cooked, but – mmm, delicious.
Until December 1