The Ducks

Michael McLean
SEArED
Pleasance Courtyard

There are two men, "R" and "K". They are casual labourers, posted together on a short-term job to drain a lake in a local park. K seems like a bit of a weirdo, but R makes an effort and gets him to go to the pub with him. K doesn't drink. But as time goes on he gradually comes out of his shell, until he's asking R to come to his DJ gig in the community centre - though he spurns the term DJ, instead calling himself a "toaster", someone who mixes beats and speaks repetitive mantras over the top. R comes but hates it - "nutcase music" he calls it, to K's face. On their last day on the job K asks R if he wants to come round his place (he lives with his mum). This is a bit much for R; drinks down the pub are one thing, but grown men don't go round each other's houses individually: that's not a casual friendship any more. Things end awkwardly between them.

Fast forward an unspecified amount of time, and R turns up on K's doorstep. K's doing pretty well now, he's just started work as a video games tester. R's dad has just died and his life is coming apart at the seams. He picks up the loose threads of their friendship and starts to exploit K for favours.

What began as a fairly bland, innocuous relationship between two men with not much in common becomes a dark face-off, with a series of subtle and not-so-subtle bids made for power and the upper hand. Who depends on whom is the ultimate question; which of them can do without the other? It's a quite brilliant study of desperation and thwarted masculinity.

Dean Ashton's R throws his weight around, but his sense of himself as the "proper man" in contrast to K, the weedy, geeky loner, gradually erodes as K demonstrates a self-contained basic OK-ness that R completely lacks. Thomas Morrison as K is beautifully understated, his barely-visible reactions to events hugely revealing of his thought processes.

Michael McLean's superb script revels in the undercurrent of absurdity present in everyday life - there are some nice riffs on Boots Meal Deals, Monopoly, the possibility of putting crème fraiche in casserole… And there are some forays into the downright ridiculous - there is a story about penguins, and there is a thing with ducks: as they drain the lake one duck remains and refuses to move on to water elsewhere, and the two men strike up a friendly relationship with it.

R and K are aware of these absurdities which rear up in their lives; in fact it's their doomed battle - particularly R's battle - to achieve normality and to rid their lives of every illogicality and every complication, that makes the play so poignant.

A fantastically restrained, absorbing, revealing piece, which lets the audience fill in the gaps between what the men say to each other. Tyne Rafaeli's direction keeps the scenes shuttling along at a good pace. Every scene notches the tension up just a fraction, and keeps us guessing. My one complaint would be that the final scene doesn't quite ratch things up to the next level - not that a play like this should end in fireworks, but it could have gone slightly further, slightly darker, left us hanging on some real heavy trembling bass note. But the overall piece is well worth catching.

Reviewer: Corinne Salisbury