Russian playwright Aleksandr Vampilov saw for the first staging of his play, Duck Hunting, in the Latvian capital Riga in 1976. Rarely performed outside Russia, it’s about to have its first Australian production care of Sydney’s Contemporarian Theatre Company.
“I’ll be honest. I’d never heard of the play,” says actor Anthony Sottile, who’s part of the on-stage team that will bring Duck Hunting to an Australian audience for the first time. “I loved the script when I first read it,” he says.
But the version to be performed on the King Street Theatre stage is far from a replica of the original tale staged in Riga. Here, the setting has changed to modern day Melbourne and follows the story of Craig, a thirty-something who has lost his will to live. His marriage has recently failed and he detests both his job and his superior.
“It’s basically about one man’s struggle with his sanity,” Sottile tells Theatre People. “His marriage has fallen apart [and] he feels betrayed by his friends. It’s basically him dealing with what his life is becoming, and he doesn’t like the picture that he sees.
“Duck hunting…is his one constant. It’s the one thing that he looks forward to…It’s a getaway for him from his life.”
So of all Australian cities, why was Melbourne selected as the setting for the contemporary adaptation? “Victoria still has a duck hunting season, whereas most other states within Australia don’t,” Sottile explains. “With regard to Melbourne culture, we’ve allowed a lot of that to come through as well.”
In addition to Sottile, the cast includes Amanda Collins, Michelle De Rosa, Nicholas Drummond, Paul Gerrard, Louise Harding, Jessica Saras, Carlos Sivalingham and Joshua Wiseman. Taking on the lead role of Craig is award-winning British actor Christian Heath, best known to Australian audiences for his time on Neighbours.
“They really did take their time casting this play,” Sottile says. “I was one of the last two characters cast, whereas some of the actors had been cast a good three [or] four months prior.
“They wanted to make sure that they had the right actors to play the characters…”
And according to Sottile, that decision has paid off. ““I can honestly say it’s probably the first time I’ve ever worked on any project where there are no egos in the room,” he tells Theatre People. “Everyone truly gets along with everyone. It’s really a great ensemble, and it is…an enjoyable experience. There’s a lot of laughter. We really do get a long. And it’s all guided by our amazing directors.”
Here, Shai Alexander, a Russian-born and trained actor, director and playwright, and Toby B. Styling, an Australian filmmaker, are sharing directorial responsibilities.
On the subject of his own character, Michael, Sottile is cautious not to reveal too much but says: “He’s kind of the all-Australian mate. He’s the character that everyone will be able to identify with because everyone will go, ‘Oh yeah! I know a guy just like him.’
“He’s always laughing [and] always sees the funny side to everything. If there’s a bit too much tension in the room, he’s the one who will cut it with humour. He’s kind of the best mate that everybody relies on.”
Asked why theatregoers should make the trek down to the King Street Theatre, Sottile responds: ““It’ll make them feel something. It really is a dramatic piece that evokes a lot of emotions and, also, probably a lot of issues that quite a number of people out there don’t deal with every day; something that they’ve bottled up and put away on a shelf.
“It will make people think.[but] it will make people feel, [which] is more to the point, I think., because it does strike so true.”
Produced by Contemporarian Theatre Company
Venue: King Street Theatre, Level 1, 644 King Street (cnr Bray Street), Newtown
Season: 2 – 29 November 2015
Times: Tues‐Fri 7.30pm, Sat 2pm & 7:30pm, Sun 5pm
Price: $45 Adult, $38 Concession, $35 Industry and $30 Under 30