About halfway through this performance, a mobile rings in the audience. It’s Tchaikovsky. He wants to know if he’s getting any royalty payments. He’s not, the performers tell him: they’re only using six notes from the theme of Swan Lake.
The room is won early with extended stagecraft, extensive audience interaction, and excellent original music - a pleasing mixture of cabaret, folk and rock performed live onstage.
Use them they do - the band plays them, a music box plays them into a mic, the audience, even, play them on glass bottles with varying depths of water - but despite its claims, The Duck Pond follows the story of the classical Swan Lake fairly closely. The tragic ending is portrayed as inescapable, the music an omen and an echo: for The Duck Pond, true love cannot find its completion in life.
That might sound depressing, but The Duck Pond certainly isn’t. For their version of the story, withWings Theatre Company have replaced the famous corps of swans with rubber ducks in a fairground. Quite literally - the Prince Siegfried meets his lover Odette, here a man, by winning him in a game of Hook a Duck.
The chorus of fairground workers, courtiers, and celestial ramp rats (you’ll see) are played by a fabulous small ensemble in woolly hats whose clowning keeps the tone light throughout. The room is won early with extended stagecraft, extensive audience interaction, and excellent original music - a pleasing mixture of cabaret, folk and rock performed live onstage.
Siegfried and Odette’s courtship is particularly funny, awkward dorkiness ramped up as high as possible while they play fairground games, eat candyfloss and find only moderately convincing excuses to get each other’s shirts off. The audience are enraptured.
Von Rothbart, the evil sorcerer of the original, is transformed into a sinister Soviet fairground owner. Tom Figgins plays this character’s grim humorlessness for laughs and he gets them, but he does not shy away from his role as dark centre of the piece. His reductive Russianness, reflected in the baleful choral music of his fairground, could merely be a reference to Tchaikovsky's nationality, but coupled with the explicitly taboo gay relationship at the centre of the story, it resonates deeper still with the country’s hostile attitude towards gay rights. The fame of Swan Lake allows withWings to play around with the story and still have its tragic events seem like fate. This of, of course, exactly what they want us to feel.
There was a standing ovation at the performance I attended, and it’s inevitable there will be many more.