So how do you describe the feeling of suddenly having a realization that means your entire world has just changed?
It is sitting in the pitch black dark of a spaceship’s belly while pinprick galaxies spin by into infinity and noise slams you into your seat. It is complete sensory overload crossed with paralysis. It is how I felt at the climax of The Wild Duck: fear and exhilaration and amazement all hitting me so hard I almost could not think, I could only experience.
I’ve made it my practice for years to avoid both reading scripts and reading reviews so I can have the pleasure of having a play unfold and be a surprise to me, and there was not a single expected revelation in this show (although I had the decency to be surprised by the presence of a duck on stage despite the title – then wondered to what extent it was a seagull-like metaphor – and, assuming it was, raced quickly to determine exactly what it meant before the end, and was wrong).
You see, the thing is, the rich man, his son Gregers, the son’s buddy, buddy’s wife and kid, they weren’t my family; they weren’t my friends. But from the very first strained meeting between Mr Moneybags and Moneybags Junior, I was pulled in to the reality of their lives. This is kind of funny because the whole thing is done behind a glass wall (yes, there is a fourth wall, and a third) with microphones, and you’d think I’d hate it, the artificiality of it all, the fakeness. But instead, I bought the conceit and believed it all, this despite the fact the daughter was both too long in the tooth to be 15 and, well, just not written right. But there was Gregers with his ridiculous chips on his shoulder – practically myself – making sure everyone knew what the truth was about everything (including his feelings) no matter how unwanted or upsetting his “truth” was … “The Wife,” seemingly a throwaway role until she falls in a ball on the stage and stays there for some twenty minutes, the embodiment of every woman who has had to cry all of her tears forever and can never be unbroken … and “The Buddy,” so hung up on his own ego (like Gregers) that he’s willing to destroy everything so he can feel proud of himself. They’re all real people. I know them all.
In some ways, seeing this play was like watching a real-life enactment of the immovable object and the unstoppable force; but with the feeling of tragedy I always get when I think about Schroedinger’s cat. Do you remember hearing about Schroedinger’s cat for the first time? Can you not tell me that, truth or not truth, the whole thing was terribly cruel to the cat? You want it to be a discussion about physics, but you have to step away from life to do that; and life has a horrible way of popping up when you think it’s just become a beautiful abstraction with no relationship to you.
Finally the lights lifted a bit and the fourth wall became invisible, and two of the characters had a little meaningless conversation and I felt broken and hurt for them. And I thought, once again, Ibsen did this to me. He made me believe. He made me feel. He made the people matter to me, wisps of text and thoughts that they are. Nicely, Belvoir Sydney made me feel the breeze blowing from the stage, as we stood in a nowhere wondering just where our lives had brought us, or, rather, where these characters’ lives (and words, and decisions) had brought them. And I thought, now this was a good, good night. This is why I go to the theater.
(This review is for a performance that took place on Thursday, October 23rd, 2014. I apologize for the lack of credit to the actors but there’s absolutely zero information on the Barbican website and I didn’t feel like shelling out £4 for a program, so do the legwork yourself if you’re really curious. Admittedly some of my experience of the play was due to having side effects from an ocular migraine, and the fact that the Barbican theater reminds me of a spaceship anyway, but there you have it, I was actually speechless and amazed and seeing little flickering lights while feeling unable to move a muscle. Kinda cool really.)