Theatre Review: The Wild Duck, Almeida Theatre

Nicholas Farrell and Clara Read in The Wild Duck at The Almeida picture by Manuel Harlan

Nicholas Farrell and Clara Read in The Wild Duck at The Almeida picture by Manuel Harlan - Credit: Archant

Robert Icke’s rewrite of Ibsen’s masterpiece proved too much for some in a cumbersome first half but delivered a riveting finish

There are reasons why this play might be the most personal of all of Henrik Ibsen’s works, and Robert Icke’s re-write of The Wild Duck explains in no uncertain terms.

A sumptuous dinner party sets the scene for the return of prodigal son Gregory Woods (Kevin Harvey) following a self-imposed exile. His father, Charles (Nicholas Day), has a long history of infidelities against Gregory’s late mother which has tarnished the son’s view of his father. Even as an adult, the father deems that he looks upon him through his mother’s eyes.

Meanwhile, Gregory’s old childhood friend Francis Ekdal (Nicholas Farrell) is married to Gina (Lyndsey Marshal) a former maid of the Woods family. The Ekdals have a 12-year old daughter, Hedwig (Grace Doherty) and live in hardship with Francis’s father in an old multi-storey townhouse. They seem happy in spite of their difficulties. Unbeknownst to Francis, however, Charles Woods is providing the financial succour that is helping to keep them afloat. Gregory’s return prompts revelations that trigger irrevocable fissures, instilled by his firm belief that the truth should prevail over lies.

In a unique approach, Icke has his cast repeatedly breaking the fourth wall. Actors pause mid-scene to provide context and exposition for what is happening at any given moment. This workshop-style contextualisation is a high stakes gamble. Particularly so in the first half, which drags. Swathes of empty seats after the interval indicated that it was too much for some. Those who remained, however, were treated to a riveting finish. The sort of dramatic fusillade that comes from the most satisfying of theatrical outings. Every time we regale something from the past, we inch away from the truth. The present and its unrelenting narrative is the only real truth that we have. A 56-year old Ibsen may well have been reflecting upon his own misdeeds and history when he wrote the Wild Duck, but there is plenty to resonate with the rest of us. His masterly skill is evident in this production in the end, even if it drags its feet in a cumbersome fashion pre-interval.