The Wild Duck

Written by Henrik Ibsen (adapted by David Eldridge)

Thursday 15th November to Sat 24th November 2007

Directed by Alice Corrigan

Should the truth be pursued whatever the cost? The idealistic son of a wealthy businessman seeks to expose his father's duplicity and to free his childhood friend from the lies on which his happy home life is based.

"The Wild Duck is perhaps the greatest of all Ibsen's plays, and part of the reason for its greatness is that it combines the bleakest tragedy...with an awareness of human frailty and self-deception that is essentially comic"

The Daily Telegraph

AuthorHenrik Ibsen

Henrik Ibsen (1828 - 1906)

Ibsen was a major 19th-century Norwegian playwright, theatre director, and poet. He is often referred to as the godfather of modern drama and is one of the founders of Modernism in the theatre. His plays were considered scandalous to many of his era, when Victorian values of family life and propriety largely held sway in Europe. Ibsen's work examined the realities that lay behind many facades, possessing a revelatory nature that was disquieting to many contemporaries. It utilised a critical eye and free enquiry into the conditions of life and issues of morality.

Ibsen was born to relatively well-off family and became an apprentice pharmacist at the age of 15. He fathered an illegitimate son at the age of 18 - (whom he never met) and later left for Christiania (Oslo) to try to attend university. He failed the entrance exams and started to concentrate on his writing. His first play 'Catiline', was published under the pseudonym Brynjolf Bjarme when he was only 20, but it was not performed. In 1858 he became the creative director of the Christiania Theatre and married Suzannah Thoresen the same year. She gave birth to their only child, a son, Sigurd in 1859. Disenchanted with the poverty and lack of recognition of his life in Norway, in 1864 he went to live in Italy.

His next play, 'Brand' written in 1865, was staged to critical and financial success, as was the following play, 'Peer Gynt' to which Edvard Grieg famously composed incidental music and songs. Ibsen moved from Italy to Germany in 1868, where he spent years writing the play he regarded as his main work, 'Emperor and Galilean' although very few shared his opinion about this play. Ibsen published A Doll's House in 1879 and Ghosts in 1881; both scathing commentaries on Victorian morality. 'The Wild Duck' written in 1884 is by many considered Ibsen's finest work, and it is certainly the most complex. In later plays such as 'Hedda Gabler' and 'The Master Builder', Ibsen explored psychological conflicts. These plays are particularly interesting because of their hard-edged, objective look at interpersonal confrontation.

Ibsen can be credited with completely rewriting the rules of drama with a realism which was to be adopted by Chekhov and others and which we see in the theatre to this day. He returned to Norway in 1891 and died in Christiania (now Oslo) after a series of strokes in 1906.

AdaptationDavid Eldridge

David Eldridge (b 1973)

David Eldridge was born in Romford, Essex and began writing full time after graduating in English Literature and Drama from Exeter University in 1995. In 1997, Eldridge was Pearson TV playwright in Residence at the Royal National Theatre. In 1996, The Bush Theatre was awarded a Time Out Live Award for its London Fragments season, of which 'Serving It Up' was the second play of three. In 2001, 'Under the Blue Sky' was awarded the Time Out Live Award for Best New Play in the West End. 'Under The Blue Sky' received its American Premiere at the prestigious Williamstown Theatre Festival, Massachusetts in June 2002 and received its premiere on the West Coast of the United States at the Geffen Playhouse in Los Angeles in September 2002.

PlayThe Wild Duck

Written in 1883 and premiered in 1884, 'The Wild Duck' was a decisive transition piece in the development of one of the greatest play writing careers of the modern era. It was written after a string of controversial "social" plays had made Ibsen notorious throughout Europe as a crusading reformer. The four plays immediately preceding it ('The Pillars of Society', 'A Doll's House', 'Ghosts' and 'An Enemy of the People') had launched a new style of prose drama that identified Ibsen with various crusading liberal causes. All four plays touched with uncanny insight on raw social issues that, more than a century after Ibsen introduced such subjects into serious social dramas, are still the subject of discussion today.

The first act opens with a dinner party hosted by Håkon Werle, a wealthy merchant and industrialist. The gathering is attended by his son, Gregers Werle, who has just returned to his father's home following a self-imposed exile. There, he learns the fate of a former classmate of his, Hjalmar Ekdal. Hjalmar married Gina, a young servant woman in the Werle household. The elder Werle had arranged the match by providing Hjalmar with a home and a profession as a photographer. Gregers, whose mother died believing that Gina and her husband had carried on an affair, becomes enraged at the thought that his old friend is living a life built on a lie. Guided by a fervent strain of idealism, Gregers endeavours to reveal the truth to Hjalmar, and thereby free him from the mendacity which surrounds him. To that end, Gregers takes up residence in the Ekdal Home.

He meddles in the affairs of a strange family, producing disastrous results. Figuratively speaking, he lives in a house whose closets are full of skeletons. Over the course of the play the many secrets that lie behind the Ekdals' apparently happy home are revealed to Gregers, who insists on pursuing the absolute truth. This family has achieved a tolerable way of life by ignoring the skeletons (among the secrets: Gregers' father impregnated his servant Gina then married her off to Hjalmar to legitimise the child, and Hjalmar's father has been disgraced and imprisoned for a crime the elder Werle committed) and by permitting each member to live in a dreamworld of his own - the feckless father believing himself to be a great inventor, the grandfather dwelling on the past when he was a mighty sportsman, and little Hedvig, the child, centring her emotional life around an attic where a wounded wild duck leads a crippled existence in a make-believe forest.

To the idealistic Gregers, all this appears intolerable. To him it seems that the whole family is leading a life based on a lie. The remedy is obviously to face facts, to speak frankly, to let in the light. However, in this play the revelation of the truth is not a happy event because it rips up the foundation of the Ekdal family. When the skeletons are brought out of the closet, the whole dreamworld collapses; the weak husband thinks it is his duty to leave his wife, and the little girl, after trying to sacrifice her precious duck, shoots herself with the same gun.

The Bench Production

The Wild Duck poster image

This play was staged at Havant Arts Centre, East Street Havant - Bench Theatre's home since 1977. This version of 'The Wild Duck' was adapted by David Eldridge in 2005.


Jenson, a hired waiterJulie Wood
Petterson, servant to Håkon WerleJeff Bone
Old EdkalPeter Corrigan
Mrs Sørby, Housekeeper to Håkon WerleSally Hartley
Mr Flor, a dinner guestPete Woodward
Mr Balle, a dinner guestJohn Scadding
Håkon WerleDavid Penrose
Gregers WerleMartin McBride
Hjalmar EdkalNathan Chapman
Gina EdkalMegan Green
Hedvig EdkalCharley Callaway
Relling, a doctorDamon Wakelin
Molvik, formerly a student of theologyJohn Scadding


Director Alice Corrigan
Producer Lorraine Galliers
Stage Manager Zoë Chapman
Assistant Stage Managers Jeff Bone
Julie Wood
Lighting Design Jacquie Penrose
Lighting Operation Dan Finch
Sound Design Darryl Wakelin
Sound Operation Sian Finch
Costumes Sue Dawes
Publicity Jaspar Utley
Set Design David Penrose
Set Construction Kevin West
Programme Editor Derek Callam
Poster and Flier Design Pete Woodward
Front of House Manager Zoë Chapman

Director's Notes

I saw the first production of David Eldridge's version of The Wild Duck in London, having spontaneously decided to go and see something at The Donmar Warehouse, one of my favourite theatres. The Donmar is fascinating because, despite its small size, it manages to do ambitious productions with big names and retains a great deal of independence and credibility. As an audience member, it gives you the opportunity to pay non-extortionate ticket prices to experience extraordinary performances up close. The Wild Duck was no exception and I was so excited by the simplicity of the adaptation that, I feel retains all the power of the story and a sense of the place and period without ever becoming bogged down by extraneous verbosity.

This simplicity of language can never be seen as simplicity of thought, however, as The Wild Duck has a multi-layered plot that we are still searching through, finding new ideas, symbols and possibilities for interpretation. The rehearsal process started with sessions that focused on textual analysis and these have enabled actors to continually rediscover their characters' motives. I'm someone with a logical, linear approach to directing, something which is often forced by necessity due to the short rehearsal process, where run-throughs of scenes are needed in order for them to be committed to memory. I've really enjoyed having the opportunity to move beyond run-throughs into experimentation. The cast has been hugely supportive, from offering up suggestions on rehearsals on voice and movement. My father also came on board as Movement Director, which has been a first for the company, and this has been interesting as he has attempted to make sense of what I want and what the actor can do and broken down the process so that it fits in to the play as a whole. He has also provided me with a sounding board for my ideas, which has been hugely useful for me as I consider myself a director who is still learning.

I have spent the last week or so, at the time of writing, with a big grin on my face as the play and the characters have started to take shape. I genuinely look forward to sharing the play with an audience, and hope that we are able to do it justice and I have every confidence in my cast that this will be the case.

Alice Corrigan


The NewsJames George

This offering needs heating up to allow for dramatic burst of energy

Much 19th century European and Russian drama has always left me cold, probably due to the stilted, stolid 1950s translations served up for study in our schools and colleges, although the angst-ridden self-centred posturing of a lot of the characters always adds to my irritation.

So I was interested to see if David Eldridge's 2005 re-working of Ibsen's The Wild Duck - The Bench's latest offering - could blow away my prejudice. Unfortunately this new adaptation seems as stolid as its predecessors, with no attempt made to make the language more accessible to a modern audience, wordy Ibsenisms galore clunking out and grating on the ear.

But there is some good work from Bench regulars David Penrose and Peter Corrigan, particularly Corrigan as the drink-ridden father-figure. It was Damon Wakelin however, who took the words and ran with them. Of the cast he alone had the true measure of the dialogue and his character came the closest to sounding real. His performance added an energy to the piece which it sometimes lacked from others on opening night.

Martin McBride could and should shift up through the emotional gears more often, but the presence of his character - the man who believes he's always right, interfering in the lives of others - became physically sickening after a while; and that is meant as a compliment to the actor. A worthy and welcome attempt at bringing an under produced writer's work to the area though.

The News, 16th November 2007

Production Photographs