As you walk into the theatre to see Duck Gutters, in the middle of the stage stands one of the stranger surrealist-style paintings you are ever likely to see in your life. It depicts a duck inside a duck inside a duck. It isn’t long before the stage lights go up and it’s revealed that this painting is called ‘Duck Gutters’, and it carries a deadly curse. Oswald, the painting’s owner, has just turned 21. Expecting to inherit his father’s company that evening, surrounded by family, he is distraught to learn that the painting’s curse may or may not be about to send him on a murderous rampage.
Rory Greenwood’s performance as the lead Oswald is absolutely fantastic. From the moment he enters the stage for the first scene, it’s impossible to avert your eyes from him. He lives and breathes his character. Portraying the pompous and slightly intense Oswald’s slow descent into madness cannot be easy, but Greenwood carries it off effortlessly, putting the audience into fits of giggles – not to mention his fellow cast, who at times seem to be only just containing their grins. With a Hugh Grant-esque, well-spoken charm, Greenwood is perfectly cast and a complete joy to watch.
Unfortunately, with a complex plot filled with underhanded scheming the script occasionally seems to lose its way, unaided by its constraining time limit of 50 minutes. As a result, many scenes fee snatched away. With some actors rushing through their lines a bit too quickly there simply isn’t always the time to use silence to any dramatic or comic effect, which comes at the cost of some poignant moments being glossed over.
Where the writing really shines, however, is in its creation of marvellous satirical characters. Parodying the stereotypical personalities you might expect to find in a play about a millionaire family, Duck Gutters gives us Oswald, the dramatic one; Elizabeth, the expensive narcotics addict; Beatrice, ever pretentious and rude to the staff, and Edmund, the devious, condescending older brother. Toeing the line between the expected and unexpected, the characterisation is excellently handled and overall, executed very well by the actors.
A play that deals with familiar themes like coming of age, power, and success in a modern way, Duck Gutters is a piece of new writing reminiscent of something much older and allegorical. Its absurdist themes give it a refreshing niche in the contemporary theatre scene. A creation of the University of Manchester Drama Society, the play fortunately leaves little to be desired compared to other student theatre of a similar ilk, although it could do with some fine tuning in terms of finding a steady pace. Nevertheless, Duck Gutters represents an excellent Fringe debut, and there is no doubt that Manchester’s Drama Society would be welcomed back to the Fringe next year with open arms.
theSpace Triplex – Studio (Venue 38)
Image: Callum Dibbert