Out of Joint/Royal Court co-production
Royal Court Theatre Upstairs
Duck starts like a not very special TV thriller but it is worth persevering with. Young Irish playwright, Stella Feehily's first full-length play soon begins to tread ground similar to that in Simon Burt's first play, Untouchable, as it develops into a touching portrait of two teenaged Dublin girls who have become adults a little too soon.
It contrasts the lives of Cat, or Duck as her unkind thuggish boyfriend Mark calls her, and her best friend, Sophie. Duck works as a hostess in Mark's seedy bar and is the daughter of disappointed parents whose own unfulfilled lives she seems destined to repeat. Sophie is at university and might just escape the drudgery that has turned her mother into a tedious scold.
After some predictable battles with the stereotypical Mark, a drug-dealing bully played by Karl Shiels, and his sub-normal friend, Eddie, the play settles down when the heroine meets Jack, an ageing author with a drink problem. He declares his love, scatters money and, despite the fact that he is old enough to be her father (or even grandfather), Duck is attracted.
The relationship between these two needy people who seem to have nothing in common is nicely portrayed, as one would expect from experienced director, Max Stafford Clark. A laugh becomes something slightly more and before the audience knows it, Duck has found a father figure that she truly loves. The inevitable consequence of this is that Mark and Eddie will be around to put on the frighteners.
With the aid of Jonathan Fensom whose design keeps the play running at a sharp pace, there are some great moments and in particular, three short scenes immediately after the interval, all on the same set, are wonderful. These very cleverly move Duck from love to shocking hate and violence; and finally to friendly consolation in the space of a few minutes.
Stella Feehily shows great promise with this debut play and Max Stafford Clark is well served by his cast. Gina Moxley gives a nice cameo as the mothers while Tony Rohr and Elaine Symons as Jack and Sophie respectively are completely convincing.
The outstanding performance comes from Ruth Negga as the eponymous heroine. She captures a young woman's joy and fear equally well and successfully brings out the conflicting elements of child and woman.
Despite its minor faults, this latest co-production between Out of Joint and The Royal Court is well worth a visit.
"Duck" runs until 23rd December.
This review originally appeared on Theatreworld in a slightly different version
Reviewer: Philip Fisher