Sunday 7 April 2024

DUCK DUCK GOOSE - Theatre Review

WHAT: Duck Duck Goose
WHEN: 3 - 13 April 2024
WHERE: Theatre Works
WRITTEN BY: Catriona Daly
DIRECTED BY: Timothy Wynn
DESIGN BY: Mikailah Looker
AV DESIGN BY: Lachlan van der Kreek
SOUND DESIGN BY: Morgan Francis
LIGHTING BY: Arielle Roberts
PERFORMED BY: Emily Carr, Matt Domingo, Mitchell Holland, Rachel Nutchey, Jeanda St James, and Ilia Swindells

Ilia Swindells and Matt Domingo - photo by Darren Gill

What a play Duck Duck Goose is! Irish playwright Catriona Daly has written the play which needed to be written for men today. Being presented at Theatre Works until the 13th April, Ipswich based That Production Company is bringing us a story about what it is to be men in a world becoming intolerant of 'boys will be boys' behaviour. 

The party of all parties happens. The play begins the next morning. Chris (Mitchell Holland) finds himself waking up on his mates' kitchen floor and is startled by the appearance of Jane (Rachel Nutchey) who is playing on her phone. She appears to be doing a walk of shame after boozy sex with Davey (Matt Domingo) and has a strangely tense and confusing conversation with Chris before leaving. Davey and housemate Andy (Ilia Swindells) emerge and have another confusing conversation with Chris about deleting a toxic male What's App groups they belong too. 

Eventually it emerges that Jane lays charges against Davey saying he raped her, and Andy tried to join in. The men deny it, of course, and Chris is put in the position of choosing to stand up with his bruvs. When he does actually go ahead and delete the What's App group, he becomes complicit, and they all face legal trial. 

Chris, in particular, faces trial by media and social media. Chris is constantly reminded he didn't see what happened so why does he insist it didn't happen? The recurring theme becomes the refrain 'if it talks like a duck, 90% of the time it is a duck'. If all of the chat talk is misogynistic and violent, there is a strong likelihood someone in the group is going to be exactly that type of person.

This is what makes Duck Duck Goose so important. It is not about rape or guilt. It is about perception and loyalties and probabilities. This is Chris' story, not Davey's or Andy's. Chris wasn't in the bedroom and didn't see or do anything, but he becomes socially crucified because of his staunch support for his friends. On the other hand, he is absolutely sure it didn't happen because Chris saw Jane immediately afterwards in the kitchen and she didn't 'look' traumatised. Sitting alongside this questioning of unsubstantiated loyalty is the question what does trauma look like? 

Possibly the most compelling scene is when Chris goes on a Tinder date with Marie (Jeanda St James). She talks about an incident on a bus when a guy sat beside her and exposed himself and started masturbating. Her point was that most of the people on that bus, if asked, would likely say they don't tolerate assault, but all anyone did was move away or get off. On the other hand, Marie was confused and in shock and did nothing and went to work just like any other day. She was completely traumatised but anybody looking would have said she was fine. Another regular refrain across the work is how can people stop assault when they can't recognise it even when it is happening right in front of their eyes?

Daly deftly avoids the conversation being split along gender lines though. Chris' sister Sarah (Emily Carr) sides with her brother and his friends and a male radio shock jock, Leo (Swindells), becomes a strident interrogator who exposes some deep prejudices held by Chris both to the public and to Chris himself.

Director Timothy Wynn has created a show with extremely strong visuals and the cast is strong. I had one big hesitation with the casting. It is great that it is diverse, but Wynn has accidently created a show where the people of colour actors are the sexual offenders, and the white guy is the poor innocent lost in a maelstrom of slings and arrows. I am confident that was not the intention, but it is a really big OOPS!

Mikailah Looker (designer) has created a strong visual impact with a white rectangular rostrum across the width of the stage with a mirroring border above which allows a kind of tickertape messaging which tracks the time lapse of the show across the front. The concept of nothing is black and white contrasting with the white set in a black box theatre is strong and it also has a sense of a police lineup. On the other hand, there is little depth to the acting space which makes watching the show feel a bit like watching a tennis match. The scrap heap of kitchen stuff in the corner is a tragedy and using the fridge for everything and serving wine from a dirty coffee kettle in the date scene let the show down badly.

The AV works by Lachlan van der Kreek is impressive. The stage floor becomes a mobile phone interface, the tickertape messages swing from literal to abstract ideas, and the text is projected on the back wall for comprehension and accessibility for the d/deaf community. I really did like how the captioning was done but the font is too small, and it is pointless for the first half because the lighting designer (Arielle Roberts) floods the theatre (for no dramaturgical reason - AGAIN!) which takes ages to dissipate. Even if the font had been bigger, we still would not have been able to read the words easily through all that haze. Do it or don't do it. Stop messing around with accessibility. And yes, the captions are necessary because the entire show is played with a strong Galway accent and spoken at fast pace which means a lot of people need the support of the text on the back wall to keep up and understand what is happening. 

Apart from the haze, the lighting design is crisp and effective. The sound design by Morgan Francis is strong and compelling. All of the production elements work well. Perhaps one other reservation was that Holland never changes or adjusts costumes when everybody else does. He is on stage the whole time, which is a challenge, but it is odd that he is in casual sweats and bare feet all through the show including on the date and in court. I think simple costume shifts (such as shoes, perhaps) would have been possible within the arc of the show.

The cast is impressive although I would have liked Nutchey to find more definition between the three characters she plays (Jane, waiter, Sarah's friend). Swindells was mesmerising as toxic male Andy, and also the coked up radio DJ Leo. The build-up of misdirection and constant pressure Leo applies to Chris in the radio interview interrogation is masterful and the centrepiece of this production. Holland carries his central role well and never lets the energy or tension drop in what is a really huge role.

Duck Duck Goose is one of the most important plays I have seen on stage in a long time and this production has strong visuals and performances to take it where it needs to go. It is a clever interrogation of those grey areas where we don't know quite what is going on. It asks the question how much effort do we make to look at the context to find out? 'If it talks like a duck, then 90% of the time it is a duck'. How can we stop assault when we don't even recognise it when it is happening right in front of us?

4.5 Stars

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