We all had those childish fantasies, when we are young, of what we wanted to be when we grew up. In Duck, written by maatin and playing at Arcola Theatre, we meet Ismail, a fifteen-year-old cricket fanatic desperate for the limelight and who is a charmer to everyone. Do we watch him reach the stars or see a dream shatter?
In this one hander and for a full 85 minutes, Ismail, acted with comedic ease by Omar Bynon, shares his story of a cricket career that wasn’t to be. The start of the play suggests a playful tone, but suddenly everything changes as important themes of racial bigotry creep in. Ismail brings in various characters, such as his pompous coach and a pushy dad, and we soon start to see what went wrong.
Directed by Imy Wyatt Corner, this is a visually appealing production, graphics give a huge amount of clarity to the piece. Mesmerising illustrations of balloons and balls bouncing add to the childlike manner of the story. The script is also added to the backdrop which helps any neurodiverse audience member and also adds to the accessibility and precision of the play.
Ismail is at one of England’s biggest private schools, he is also the son of Muslim parents who came to England in 1970. He feels ultimately British. Never quite sure why, people ask him all the time – who do you support – England or India? The plot thickens when we meet the new coach, Eagle.
Consistent undermining, calling Ismail the wrong name, undermining his talent with jibes like ‘arrogance isn’t the same as ability’, all leaves Ismail feeling small. For the audience it’s a brutal portrayal of racism.
The situation grows worse as his friends start to join in, the events happen in quick succession and maatin’s play convincingly shows how everything becomes so overwhelming that Ismail’s behaviour is altered.
Yet the script is clear and the story elements all combine well, it demonstrates how damaging racism can be to children and their futures. We are reminded, through a series of verbatim scenes, of the significance the 7/7 events still have today and the threat British Muslims face every day.
Duck shows us the world through the lens of a young boy who faces incredible challenges, and while it makes us feel nostalgic for some of those magical moments as a child, it also shows us how a young person’s life can be shaped, and damaged by those around them. Duck is a sweet and playful, but powerfully relevant piece of theatre.
Duck is at Arcola Theatre until 15th July 2023