Within minutes, Duck assaults its audience with arson, attempted rape, gratuitous swearing and a broken nose. But this production soon becomes much more than your standard shock theatre fare and it would be a mistake to dismiss it as such. Stella Feehilly’s Dublin is far from a fair city, and Oskar McCarthy’s direction, along with the near-flawless accents, do a superb job of bringing her harsh underbelly to life. The language is not for the faint-hearted; neither is the violence, but it never feels cheap; the fact is most of Duck’s characters are not that nice and never pretend to be.
Black humour is never far away either, often in the form of an impressively rapid delivery from Justin Blanchard’s Eddie, the ex-convict currently kicking the habit of getting caught. Jessica O’Driscoll Breen’s Catherine is the eponymous Duck, thoroughly dissatisfied with being a gangster’s moll and seeking an escape. Her opening act of rebellious pyromania, on her thug boyfriend Mark’s jeep, lands her in hot water when he finds out, nearly drowning her in a deeply unsettling bath scene. Credit must go to Breen and Matt Hay’s Mark as they transform a scene of strained tranquillity into one of terrifying violence. In the tight confines of the Corpus Playroom, it is difficult not to wince at each splash as Breen resurfaces gasping for air.
The cramped theatre also lends itself to the claustrophobic scenes which take place inside Cat and best friend Sophie’s houses. McCarthy’s direction excels in these scenes, vividly depicting Cat’s stagnant kitchen and Sophie’s volatile household.
Feehilly’s broken homes are held together by the versatile brilliance of Liane Grant, perfectly cast as both mothers: the uptight Marion and the violently maternal Val. While it is easy to identify with Sophie, played by the often overly defiant Stephanie Aspin, Grant evokes an awkward pity for the mother eventually deserted by her husband and daughter. One jarring note however was the music.
As each scene faded into a lengthy set change, the room vibrated with noise ranging from Lady Gaga to heavy metal which added little and annoyed a lot. Despite this, the small cast did an excellent job of remaining distinct in their various roles, particularly Danny Rhodes’ portrayal of Cat’s literary hack lover as well as her perpetually fatigued father.
While it may be grim, Duck is rarely boring and definitely worth seeing.