The Australian theatre company Belvoir Sydney took to the stage at the Barbican centre to present their ‘radical adaptation’ of the classic Ibsen play The Wild Duck; part of the Barbican’s International Ibsen Season. This production was written by Simon Stone in collaboration with Chris Ryan and has previously won many awards including four Sydney Theatre Awards. Belvoir Sydney is well known for their adaptations of classics and despite their theatre being based in Surry Hills, Australia; they are not shy to take their work across Australia and abroad.
The production visually explored the lives of the Ekdals’ family intertwined with the Werles’ family and questioned whether the truth is better than ignorant bliss. The play revolves around one secret; Hjalmer is not the biological father of Hedvig, thus betrayal and family dysfunction propels the tragic narrative. The production emphasised whether biological blood is needed in order to create important relationships between people. If you are brought up by a father-like figure can he classify as your father?
Unlike most productions, The Wild Duck had no interval and I felt that this allowed the piece to flow rather than being broken up into sections. One of the company’s dramatic interpretation was to continuously plunge the audience into darkness with long black outs. It was difficult to tell if the blackouts were distracting or added to the atmosphere? But the most intriguing part of the production that has everyone talking is the actual wild duck onstage.
Within this theatrical world, where the audience know that the play is an impression of reality, the one being that is real is this live duck. The duck has no awareness that he is onstage essentially being an actor. At one moment, he is wheeled on in a plastic box filled with water. In the performance I saw, the duck started flapping his wings and spraying water everywhere whilst the actors continued the scene. Our eyes are immediately drawn to being fascinated by a duck rather than following the storyline. There is a sense of continual unpredictability. Who knows what the duck will do from one performance to the next? Still, I felt suspicious that this animal had been tamed as several actors picked up the duck throughout the play. This duck needed to be truly wild!
Perhaps there is significance that the The Wild Duck was performed at the Barbican, revealing the Barbican’s ideology that they hold forward thinking, contemporary, risky work. For example, there was a glass encasement onstage which separated the actors physically from the audience. It is as if the audience were intruding by looking in to the private lives of these characters. Towards the end, the actors stepped out of the box as if they were being set free. I can honestly say that I have never been to the theatre to see a play where the majority of the performance takes place within a clear box!
The glass box, the bare set, the character’s raw emotions expressed by the actors and of course the famous duck, all combined to make this a unique yet moving theatre experience.