Review: The Wild Duck, Almeida Theatre

Robert Icke adapts Ibsen to create a vividly powerful The Wild Duck at the Almeida – stunning work

Henrik Ibsen wrote The Wild Duck in 1884

The Wild Duck may be a nineteenth century play but this is most definitely at twenty-first century adaptation, Robert Icke continuing his astonishing strike-rate of Almeida successes with yet another. This time it is Ibsen under the microscope but a mark of Icke’s seemingly endless invention is that his approach here repeats little of what he’s done before.

So a scalpel-sharp play about truth and lies becomes refracted through the truth and lies in Ibsen’s own life, the parallels between his own illegitimate issue and Hedwig’s situation brought into the light. The first half sees this done through meta-theatrical interjections, house lights up and actors commenting on the action as much as acting itself. 

And then painstakingly, over the next three hours or so, Icke builds up the world of the play. Elliot Griggs’ lighting slides into darkness with the speed of a sunset, and Bunny Christie’s design imperceptibly fills up the empty stage with furniture piece by piece. But even as we move to what looks like a more conventional staging, there’s an intensity to the emotional connections here which is rarely seen.

The cast is superb from top to bottom. Lyndsey Marshal’s loving Gina, Edward Hogg’s emotional James, Kevin Harvey’s destructive Gregory. And the young Grace Doherty more than holds her own. And as the question about whether it is better to live life comforted by lie or face the bracing impact of harsh truths comes crashing into stark relief, the scene is set for a properly breath-taking finale. The big reveal of Christie’s set is matched only by Icke’s revelatory approach to tackling Ibsen for today.

Running time: 2 hours 50 minutes (with interval)
Main photo: Manuel Harlan; promo image: Nadav Kander
The Wild Duck is booking at Almeida Theatre until 1st December

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