If you’ve been in Melbourne for the past month or so, you would probably have been guilted into going to see the Belvoir production of The Wild Duck at Malthouse Theatre. Its fans around me swooned over it like schoolgirls while critics ensured that not seeing it would be a tragedy in itself. Malthouse threatened that only measly single seats were on sale weeks before the season even began. I finally got to see it on closing night.
There seems to be various schools of thought on this production. I shall not reiterate because they are already splattered all over the internet. Yes, yes. I thought it was an immensely captivating piece of theatre. Ralph Myers’ set is seductive yet thoroughly effective in creating a pressure-cooker environment within which the tension builds. The performances are flawless and exquisite. But you know what happens, of course, when expectations are set higher than a phallus-inspired piece of architecture. While people argue about the semantics of after Ibsen, I felt that the ‘Ibsen’ in the piece wasn’t present, whether or not someone had the forethought of adding the word, or disclaimer, ‘after.’ Though seduced by the production thoroughout, I struggled to find much depth afterwards and ultimately felt, sadly, hollow. It somewhat reminds me of Robert Venturi’s Decorated Shed, more so than his Duck.
The only thing that followed me as I rode home was not the fate of Hjalmar and Gina, or Hedvig’s tragedy. It was simply the question: Why was this play the one they all chose to obsess about?
After writing the play in 1884, Ibsen, though wary of the audience not getting it, anticipated, at least, a flurry of critical discourse from the critics. This did not happen. Now, though, some time later, it has. For some in-depth critical analysis, and a bit of fun, check out Jana Percovic’s review-essay on her blog, Guerrilla Semiotics. The Al Crog even rushes in to defend the production within the drawn out yet ravishing debate that follows.