Nested in Islington’s prestigious Almeida, esteemed Director/ Producer/ General Golden-Child Robert Icke’s grizzly adaptation of Henrik Ibsen’s 1884 play Wild Duck is nothing short of astonishing
CW: Graphic violence
The character of Gregory Woods (Kevin Harvey) greets us at the start of the play, a tortured sage who misanthropically lectures on the play’s central preoccupations, promising that “This is a true story”. After meeting his old school friend, James Ekdal (Edward Hogg), we quickly discover that the Woods and the Ekdals are tethered through a catalogue of complex relations which bind the two families. Furthermore, the memory of prison-time spent by James’ father due to Charles Woods’ financial scheming, still stings.
We return home with James to his pokey studio apartment where Icke paints a quaint portrait of familial love. James’ wife, Gina (Lyndsey Marshal) and their cherished child, Hedwig (Clara Read) are warm and chirpily optimistic despite living on the breadline with James’ father, Francis Ekdal (Nicholas Day). To escape the banality of his old age, Francis retires to the attic where he indulges in hunting sessions in a makeshift forest of old Christmas trees. Here lives the eponymous wild duck, and Francis recounts its remarkable backstory to his granddaughter, coaching Hedwig in the importance of survival in the face of adversity. Gregory Woods listens on, and we soon learn of his mental illness as his deliriously prosaic speeches become increasingly absorbed in self-hatred. He babbles, “I have something I need to do here, which is to open their eyes”.
The expositional first act feels tender and Icke’s renovated dialogue from 18th century Norwegian-Danish is perfectly matched with an excellent cast who deliver rousing and thoroughly real performances. A microphone is strategically used throughout the play to deliver glacial asides, as well as marking ‘END SCENE’; a seemingly innocent creative decision used to fiendish effect in the play’s final scene.
The second half mercilessly lifts the veil of domestic cosiness and revels in the anarchy. The security of love is erased brick by brick and as reality dissolves, so does linguistic and semiotic certainty. As Gina finally admits, “I don’t know if I love you, I don’t know what other people mean when they say those words”. Before the final bloody blow of the denouement, Gina and James embrace and slow dance to a gentle ballad. As the ceiling of the Ekdal’s home recedes from view, we are given a momentary glimpse into the utopian realm of the wild duck’s home, a fantastical vision of Roald Dahl-esque childhood escape with callous calm. Icke’s incredible production of Wild Duck warns us of the power that ill-intended fiction can wield over reality. Like walking away from a car crash, you will leave the auditorium with your ears ringing.
The Wild Duck runs at The Almeida Theatre until December 1st. Tickets are available here.