Sunday, 16 December 2012

Honk! - review

Written by: Stephen St Clement

Tabard Theatre, London

“What’s Mama laid?” “It’s a sort of orange preserve, often found on toast.” Just one of the many punbelievable gags in Stiles and Drew’s take on Hans Christian Andersen’s Ugly Duckling parable. But, much like the eponymous protagonist, it takes rather a while for Pulling Focus’s production to find its feet and give the audience anything worth honking about. It’s a grower, not a shower, if you will.

The Tabard’s tiny stage plays home to a small community of fowl, with the ducks’ newly hatched brood very much the focus of attention, particularly the odd-looking, honking, grey one. The scorned Ugly (Joe Sterling) sets out on a journey of self-discovery, followed by the deliciously camp and conniving Cat (Tim Oxbrow). The ensemble portray a variety of domestic animals and local wildlife throughout Ugly’s adventures, and often seem to have lost their way as much as the hapless protagonist. Mostly they appear as straight-forward human equivalents, allowing their clothing and mannerisms to denote their species, like characters from The Wind in the Willows. Other times they adopt stereotypical movements and sounds that drag their credible performances down towards amateur pantomime. It is unclear whether the fault here is down to unclear or conflicting direction, or down to a lack of commitment by some of the performers; certainly there are those, such as the aforementioned Oxbrow, Lydia Grant’s chicken Lowbutt and Kate Scott’s cat Queenie, who manage to pull it off with aplomb.

There is also the matter of some worryingly flimsy-looking set; more than once, when characters would mount the farm-house rafters during an energetic musical number, I found myself focussing less on their performance and more on whether or not the shuddering wooden planks would collapse underneath them.

Musically, however, the show is much more assured. The singing talent is universally enjoyable, with Oxbrow (again), Kathryn Rutherford, and Alex Papachristou providing stand-out performances. Tom Theakston’s musical direction is tight without restricting the performers’ individuality, making for great ensemble numbers throughout. Though one does have to wonder (read: balk) at the ticket price (£19, £17 concession), the great musicianship and occasional moments of comic genius, Scott and Grant’s cat and chicken double-act is a particular highlight, make this an enjoyable family experience.

This production runs until 13 January 2013
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