Overcooked Adaptation of Ibsen’s Wild Duck

Pablo Derqui and Ivan Benet in L'ànec salvatge (The Wild Duck) based on the play by Henrik Ibsen. Photo © Ros Ribas.

Hanging on the branches of Norwegian playwright Henrik Ibsen’s brilliant tragicomedy, this humourless Catalan adaptation of The Wild Duck (L’ànec salvatge) turned complex character-archetypes into filmic clichés.

This 1884 play was an excellent choice by director Julio Manrique. Its predominant theme of blinded idealism and addiction to abstracts over human relationships, exemplified in the missionary zeal of character Gregor Werle (Pablo Derqui), are utterly relevant to our present age of tweeted outrage and soaring expectations. Yet it was as if the ‘acute attack of integrity’ that Ibsen critiqued, fuelled the play meant to expose it.

Set in an unspecified time period in a generic Scandinavian landscape – part forest part sauna -, Gregor’s uncompromising hunt for ‘the truth’ at all costs makes a victim of self-aggrandising simpleton Hialmar (Ivan Benet). Yet in this simplified production you feel force-fed with Ibsen’s storyline while the meaning behind it has been diluted. The lead character of Gregor has been side-lined as a cretin (unfair on actor Pablo Derqui), while the over-responsible role of Hialmar, with his mood swings between affection and rage, seemed as exhausting for him as they were for me.

The second part scrambles to save the play with mixed results: the most authentic performance is that of Dr. Relling, played with exactly the right balance of smarts and cynicism by Jordi Bosch. He, along with the character of old Ekdal (Lluís Marco) respected the slightly-ridiculous personalities of Henrik Ibsen’s team players. Ibsen was a great fan of women, as the director acknowledged, yet here too their roles have been flattened: Hialmar’s wife Gina (Laura Conejero) is a wonderful source of unwitting common sense in the original: “We’re not all alike, us women!” – yet updated into a more ‘educated’ role, her lines in this production were lost. Teenager Hedvig – played impressively by Elena Tarrats – was another character starved of her potential; infantilising her meant missing a great opportunity to explore the dark world of adolescence.

L’ànec salvatge dir. Julio Manrique
until April 9th,
Teatre Lliure – Barcelona
The play is in Catalan
You can get a good translation of the original Ibsen play for a pound here (kindle version).