Oslo bound … Eloise Mignon, but not the duck. Photo: Heidrun Lohr
SELLING coal to Newcastle is one thing, but how about exporting an Ibsen play to Norway?
Following the European success of the Sydney Theatre Company's production of Gross und Klein starring Cate Blanchett, Belvoir will take its acclaimed adaptation of Henrik Ibsen's The Wild Duck to the International Ibsen Festival, a 15-day celebration in Oslo in August of the playwright's work and enduring influence. The line-up is being announced in Oslo tonight.
"It's going to be a very expensive three nights of theatre," says Belvoir's resident director, Simon Stone, who also adapted the script with the actor and writer Chris Ryan. "Actually, it's ridiculously expensive but the Norwegians really want us to go."
Stone's version of The Wild Duck cuts Ibsen's five-act structure into a modern screenplay-like 90 minutes. It won three Helpmann Awards in 2011: best play, best female actor in a supporting role (Anita Hegh) and best male actor in a supporting role (Anthony Phelan). At the 2011 Sydney Theatre Awards it also won best mainstage production and best direction of a mainstage production, with more awards going to Hegh and Phelan.
Stone has secured most of the original cast for Oslo, including Toby Schmitz, Eloise Mignon and Phelan. Hegh and John Gaden are unable to reprise their roles. Hegh will be performing in the Melbourne Theatre Company's production of Caryl Churchill's Top Girls. Gaden will be performing in another Simon Stone adaptation/production, Face To Face, for the STC. Ewen Leslie is expected to reprise his central role but he is unconfirmed at the time of writing.
"Replacing Anita and John will be very difficult," says Stone, who also has to find a replacement duck. The live ducks used in the Sydney and Melbourne productions have retired to a petting zoo, he says. "The Norwegians will be getting a local duck at the right time so that when we arrive, it will be ready and we can say, 'hello duck, it's time to act'."
Stone will travel to Oslo with Belvoir's artistic director, Ralph Myers, who designed the set.
The International Ibsen Festival, held every two years, is curated by Norway's National Theatre. This year's program includes a production written by the German experimental theatre maker Heiner Goebbels, the winner of the 2012 International Ibsen Award.
While he is in Oslo, Stone will also be working on a script for a film version of The Wild Duck. "It will be vastly different from the play," says Stone, who hopes to start shooting the film at end of next year. "Hopefully it will be made in Australia but I still haven't worked out exactly where it will be set. Location is so important in film."
Stone is excited to be taking The Wild Duck to Ibsen's home because "it is an unapologetically Australian production''. ''It's Australian theatre culture as it is now. It doesn't represent a cowed version of some other great theatrical tradition," he says.
"We're full of the hubris of a young and sparsely populated country believing it has something to say to the world. It's something we've done in sport and academia and journalism for a long time already.
''We've got to a point in our culture where the old questions of what it is to be Australian - which was an important question in terms of feeling small on a world scale - has been answered, I think. Now it's 'what do we want to say'? What does each individual want to say and how does that cornucopia represent the Australian artistic identity right now?"
Lieven Bertels, the director of the Sydney Festival and a former director of the world-renowned Holland Festival, says the world is starting to notice Australian theatre, with Belvoir's The Book of Everything playing in New York, Gross und Klein in London and about to head to Austria and Germany, and the STC's Uncle Vanya playing at New York's City Centre in July.
"There's a chance Australia is becoming flavour of the month, with early signs of more interest on various stages worldwide," he says. Contemporary dance companies such as Bangarra, and orchestras such as the Sydney Symphony, have toured Europe but exporting theatre has been more of a challenge.