Duck Variations

David Mamet
Bitter Pill
King's Head Theatre
(2007)

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It may be hard to imagine but this short play is a kind of fusion of Johann Sebastian Bach, Samuel Beckett and The Two Ronnies.

Sarah Norman's charming production of a 1976 existentialist comedy shows David Mamet doing theatrically what Bach did on the piano in his Goldberg Variations. Taking a theme and running riffs on it with metaphor never too far beneath the surface.

The fourteen short scenes all feature two men, who might ideally be rather older than the actors who sit streaming out their characters' consciousness on a park bench. This however doesn't matter as the two are well suited to their parts and operate together perfectly.

Unusually, they each get to play the strong bright part and the dumb one on a roughly equal basis. Jonathan Oliver is a Mamet look-alike with his metal-rimmed glasses. He plays Emil, a generally serious fellow with the small man's determination not to be belittled.

The much larger Henry Dunn is laid-back George who at first seems the more intelligent but that doesn't last, as the pair philosophise and argue, agree and then change their minds.

The subject matter is often as much about the two North American men and their species as it is about the ducks of the title. While this may all sound light, repeatedly the play comes back to something that ducks and old men have in common, death.

This metaphorical dimension, along with Mamet's humour best seen in a sketch about ducky lung cancer, makes this an entertaining but all too short lunchtime treat.

As a footnote, it is worth pointing out, for those whose lunch break really is only one hour long, that The King's Head will even supplement the mental sustenance by providing food or drinks.

Reviewer: Philip Fisher