In a rectangular Perspex box set at an angle to the audience, a small patch of light reveals a beautiful duck. The audience, softened by the appearance of a live animal on stage, purrs with delight. After taking a few gentle steps, the duck spreads her wings as if to take off, then totters toward the clear wall separating her from the enamoured audience. Before she reaches her destination, the darkness envelops her once more, and the empty space is quickly filled with an abrupt string composition.
When the lights come up again, we are voyeurs to the unfortunate unravelling of an intricately twisted relationship plait. The Wild Duck was written in 1884 by Norwegian playwright, Henrik Ibsen. Simon Stone, together with Chris Ryan has created a version which is shorter and has fewer characters. The wordy detail in the dialogue has been reduced and rebuilt to flow in contemporary vernacular, the speech overlapping and the delivery modernised. Although so much of the original play has been condensed, in this production, there is infinitely more space.
To remove all traces of set allows the blank stage to be instantly transformed, indoors or outdoors, confined or open. The realistic design style that Ibsen intended for this production actually works against itself. For to create a realistic set, the theatre space can usually only host one or two rooms, therefore the action is restricted to occur in the limited spaces on offer, which isn’t always the most believable option. Stone’s production of The Wild Duck, lifts this constraint and creates a fluid space for the action to unfold.
There are three doors to enter or escape the box, but they do not become evident until the stage is washed with light about half way through the show. Until that point, the characters, in effect, blend back out into the darkness when their moment concludes.
With so many theatrical elements stripped away, we are left with just a few props, the script and the performances, which were sublime. The Ekdal family, consisting of Hjalmar (Steve Rodgers), his wife Gina (Katherine Tonkin), their daughter Hedvig (Airlie Dodds) and Hjalmar’s mentally fragile father, Ekdal (Anthony Phelan), have a sweet, loving normalcy about them, despite the standard, daily challenges of life.
In his Director’s notes, Simon Stone says “The greater part of our lives is largely uneventful. Tragedy is uncommon… wholly memorable in its scarcity.” One of the most beautiful scenes is the one in which we are privy to this blissful normality, the family going through the banal daily tasks of work and school, having light, playful conversation, the prelude to the pending upheaval.
The two remaining cast members are father, Haakon Werle (John Gaden) and son, Gregers Werle (Richard Pyros) who are the catalysts of disaster for the Ekdal family.
Trapped inside a box, the theatrical element of the actor’s voice is taken away from us. This is a loss in the sense that we are deprived of the purity of natural sound, the indicator that this is live theatre. However, amplification gives so much back because the actors have the flexibility to employ minimalist screen techniques. They could drop their register without fear of not being heard or whisper their dialogue for added naturalism and emotional effect. We could hear them breathe. What an interesting challenge it must have been in the rehearsal room to train the body to perform for a 500+ audience and the voice to perform for an intimate room.
The Wild Duck is a production that stands confidently on the shoulders of the brilliant original script interpretation and the beauty of the performances.
The Wild Duck
by Simon Stone and Chris Ryan after Henrik Ibsen
Director Simon Stone
Venue: Heath Ledger Theatre, State Theatre Centre of WA
Dates: 3 – 13 Mar 2016
Tickets: $25 – $79
Part of the 2016 Perth International Arts Festival