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Young Creatives Blog

The Wild Duck

Wednesday 9 March 2016

  • Review

The Wild Duck was everything I want in a theatre experience ever – ducks, violins, fast paced witty dialogue and a healthy challenge to classic theatrical conventions.  I went to the matinee performance. Suddenly the theatre went black and as the lights came back up – we watched a duck quacking its way around the giant glass box that would enclose the rest of the play. Then we were plunged into darkness and sound – violins were the only accompaniment to the time that was flashed onto the screens, 9.07am. 

From here, the short scenes, interrupted by sound and darkness became the format of the play. We would watch Gregers fight with his father and be engrossed in the fast pace of conversation, then wait for the flash of time and music – adding to the intensity of the family drama. We were only seeing a family argue with one another, but the intensity of the music made it appear as if we were watching an epic. The scale of conflict in this family, however, warranted a score for a Greek tragedy.

There were no set furnishings. The acting was extremely intimate, with the glass box demanding the actors used microphones – at times it was like watching a film, rather than a play. Although random, the play was linear, and in the darkness between scenes, we had time to orient ourselves in the story and empathise with the characters. Also having the play contained in the glass made it quite personal – as if we had a unique insight into all the events happening in the characters lives. It was like watching the essence of Ibsen in an accessible Australian context.  I love it when classic plays are done in new, innovative ways for modern audiences.  Whilst it is important to pay tribute to playwrights and their traditional style – the aesthetics of their era, the language, the story – I think we also have a duty to them to keep their work alive and relevant. Having not read much Ibsen, I was worried that I wouldn’t understand the ideas or the characters of the play. Having short snippets of theatre, short interactions between characters and a script that made the characters easy to relate to, meant I needn’t have worried. I think it also means that traditional plays have a scope to reach a wider and more diverse audience when they operate in the time they are being performed. They play was so accessible and so enjoyable I feel so much more capable to read Ibsen.

The assistant director, Anne-Louise Sarks, spoke about ‘essentialising’ the story, in the education seminar. In the process of creating any new work from an old classic, you have to begin to make choices about the kind of stories, themes and characters you want to focus on.  She explained there didn’t have to be any commitment to the first realisation of the play, because really, how can we claim to know exactly how Ibsen wanted the play performed? She told us it was important to work with what we had when making theatre and to embrace ideas that spawn from working with limited resources, as it forces you to think deeply about what you really need to tell the story. Often it won’t be a fancy set, it will just be actors, going back to absolute theatre basics of people all experiencing something together. Realism was provided by the duck, when it refused to be caught by one of the actors. It threw the pretence of theatre completely away, because a duck can’t act.

After watching a lot of theatre throughout PIAF I had to work hard to understand, it was affirming to see a play that I could understand and empathise with. It was incredible to listen to Sarks explain the creative process and the ability we have to tell stories with whatever we have. And we aren’t bound by traditional stories – we need to think about how a work can speak now, how we can make it relevant to modern audiences. 

I think as my Young Creative journey is coming to an end, this advice couldn’t be more relevant. Sometimes I won’t have all the tools and the time that I need to work on my craft, but that is okay. Sarks said to focus on what we have, not what we don’t have and think strictly about exactly what it is we need to tell a story. We need to work with what is at our disposal. And we need to be okay with the fact that a duck can sometimes make things more authentic and real than we will ever be able to. 

Young Creative: Perth Writers Festival

Written By Katie McAllister