Review: Duck Hunting (Contemporarian Theatre Company)

contemporarianVenue: King Street Theatre (Newtown NSW), Nov 4 – 29, 2015
Playwright: Aleksandr Vampilov
Directors: Shai Alexander and Toby B. Styling
Cast: Michelle De Rosa, Nicholas Drummond, Paul Gerrard, Louise Harding, Christian Heath, Jessica Saras, Carlos Sivalingham, Anthony Sottile, Joshua Wiseman
Image by Toby B. Styling

Theatre review
Craig’s only passion is duck hunting, but he spends every second of his life avoiding it, preoccupied with all the petty mundanity of a bourgeois existence. He seems full of hatred for his job, his new home, the women around him, and most of all, himself. We see him snorting cocaine and downing copious amounts of alcohol, fantasising about better times, to which he never commits. The eccentric 1976 script by Aleksandr Vampilov is about a small man’s state of crisis. There is hardly anything likeable about Craig, but we do recognise the issues that he grapples with. The play is transposed to a modern day Australian context fairly effectively, but the sheer length of the work at three-and-a-half hours is a challenge. A heavy edit would most certainly make things more dynamic.

Shai Alexander and Toby B. Styling’s highly stylised direction delivers a lot of hits, but also more than a few misses. Their experimental anti-naturalistic mode of presentation is refreshing, with an ability to add surprising dimensions to the text, but the staging needs greater finesse to ensure that its surreality does not fall into pointless gesturing and mere pretence. The tone of performance required for the piece is specific and highly unconventional, using an idiosyncratic physical language that the cast is not always sufficiently au fait with. Michelle De Rosa and Paul Gerrard stand out for their confident embrace of the production’s offbeat nature to create characters that seem strange on the surface, while providing firm logic to their respective narratives. Craig is played by Christian Heath who brings energy and presence, along with an unshakeable conviction to hold our attention. In spite of his character’s faults, the actor’s own vulnerability and his determination to portray fragility in the protagonist’s story, help us gain an unusual, albeit objectionable, perspective of the world.

Duck Hunting is an ordinary tale that the everyman can understand. More interesting is the way it attempts to explore the potentials of the theatrical medium, and how the stage conveys meaning. It is not always successful with its endeavours, but its sense of adventure and pursuit of originality should not be disregarded. We never discover if Craig has any talent at all, but we know that he does not make it to the hunting ponds. For the artist, talent will always be subjective, but as long as self-belief and commitment exist, art will be created, and that alone, is achievement.