We begin very far from 19th Century Norway. The house lights are on, the stage is bare and the actors are in modern dress. There is some initial toying with the idea of a "real version" of this work and when the drama gets underway, the characters periodically break off to speak into a microphone to give us their interior monologues. Subtext is made overt and each scene is explained in case we miss the point. Icke also has his characters occasionally step out of character to explain to the audience how the play echoes events of Ibsen's own life – he fathered an illegitimate daughter – or to discourse on the nature of truth.
In this update, James Ekdal and his wife Gina run a photographic studio. He has bigger ambitions, but they're essentially happy, though their 13-year-old daughter Hedwig has a degenerative eye condition that means she will one day lose her sight.
James's dipsomaniac father Francis keeps animals in the attic including a recuperating wild duck, which Hedwig dotes on. The Ekdal's lives are entangled with those of the Woods. Gregory Woods is James's school friend and his wealthy, widowed father Charles was Gina's former employer. Long buried secrets and lies fester between the two families, which culminate in the shock revelation that the relationship between Gina and Charles was more than platonic.
This five-act play explores the conflicts between spirituality and psychology, realism and symbolism and comedy and tragedy. But they tend to get lost in Icke's minimalist production which is more like a lecture interspersed with dramatic interludes, while I found characters constantly reverting to microphones particularly annoying. Consequently, Ibsen's story of secrets and sorrows hiding in a cosy domesticity means that the emotional heart of the piece loses its power to stir an audience.
Performances, though, are commendable and offer some compensation for Icke's brutal treatment of the play. Edward Hogg is convincing as James, proud and vulnerable, his emotions running close to the surface while Lyndsey Marshal is a poignant Gina and Clara Read affecting as their daughter Hedwig and there is good work from Nicholas Farrell as Francis Ekdal, Kevin Harvey as Gregory Woods and Nicholas Day as Charles Woods.
And at least an actual duck is used to make the whole thing seam real!
The Wild Duck
Runs until Saturday 1 December 2018 at the Almeida Theatre, London.
Box office: 020 7359 4404Last modified: November 5, 2018