When hero 'Ugly' comes honking into the world, just after his four handsome yellow siblings, he is big and shambling and short sighted and he is wearing an untidy, grey school uniform with a badge on his blazer bearing the initials "UD". He is branded from the word go, and subjected to bullying …he is lured away by protestations of friendship from a cat; by the time his mother catches up with him he is ready to emerge as a swan…a whole series of splendid scenes.
Among individual performances, pride of place must, I think, go to Jasper Britton's superbly villainous cat. Just to hear him say "Hello Duckie" is enough to make the whole evening worthwhile. But there are lots of runners up, from David Bamber's squadron leader to David Burt's frog, with Gilz Terera's Ugly providing a warm hearted focus for the whole carnival. Peter Mackintosh's designs are attractive and clean-cut in a storybook fashion, though they contain lots of witty detail as well. The music is bright and lilting…the barrage of avian and animal puns to which we are subjected is irresistable… Julia McKenzie directs con brio, and the whole thing is enormous fun.
Cheery, chirpy and chock full of fowl yolks - sorry, I mean foul jokes - of the punning variety, the NT's seasonal family show is a bit of a lark. Composer George Stiles and writer Anthony Drewe…hit the jackpot, adapting and updating Hans Christian Andersen's testament to the triumph of personality over flashy plummage with wit and vibrant good humour. Director Julia McKenzie draws exuberant, likeable performances from the actors of the NT ensemble…Peter McKintosh's bright, toy-box set is a delight…a quacking - sorry cracking - entertainment… terrific fun for parents and children alike. Jokes and puns fly thick and fast… There's the delicious sight of David Bamber at the head of an RAF squadron of geese, a digression on class by a domesticated cat and chicken and a Busby Berkley chorus of frogs for the hymn to inner beauty, Warts and All. Gilz Terera, Jasper Britton and David Burt give their all, and Andersen's message of tolerance comes through clear and strong… Honk! is packed with wit, energy and admirable moral purpose. If anyone tells you different, flip them the bird.
This utterly delicious new musical version of Hans Christian Andersen …directed with exhilarating vim, bounce and impeccable timing by Julia McKenzie…pulls off the considerable trick of delighting children and winking wickedly at adults simultaneously.
Julia McKenzie's production of Honk! for the NT Ensemble is an exuberant smash hit that will delight parents every bit as much as their children…it is clear that in Drewe we have a lyricist/book-writer of rare wit and ingenuity, and in Stiles, a composer of great range, as capable of music-hall pastiche and jaunty novelty numbers as he is of yearning anthems and touching love songs. ..the future of the British Musical hasn't seemed so bright for years.
The piece has been staged at the National's Olivier with panache. Designer Peter McKintosh has come up with a satisfyingly simple, circular design of pond and bullrushes and there's no laborious attempt at realistic animal costumes. Instead the cast wear everyday clothes with an ingenious animal twist. Baseball caps with yellow peaks suggest beaks, a Manchester United scarf becomes a Turkey's tail feathers, and the Ugly Duckling is a gawky, geeky schoolboy in grey school blazer and baggy shorts.
The ensemble is in cracking form with sharp, inventive definition in almost every performance. McKenzie also scores some real directorial coups - a shimmering underwater sequence, a blizzard, brilliantly conjured with white umbrellas, and a hilarious Busby Berkeley pastiche for green-flippered and begoggled frogs.
It's a lovely production and, if there is any justice, Honk! will do for Stiles and Drewe what Joseph and the Amazing Technicolour Dreamcoat did for Tim Rice and Andrew Lloyd Webber.
Duck a' l'Orange is cooking at the National. It is a splendid, though by no means dainty dish to set before a family. In Honk! The Ugly Duckling, all the ducks adore orange, Ida (Beverly Klein) wears orange tights and funky knee-high orange bovver boots (her children take after her) …Klein is a stupendous performer, the Cat, Jasper Britton, is a decadent geezer in pinstripes and spats with corkscrew whiskers. He becomes ever more debauched as the evening progresses… There is also a fantastic appearance by David Burt as the Bullfrog with delectable green lipstick and an emerald bowler hat. George Stiles music is immediate, tuneful and keeps quacking to a minimum, Anthony Drewe's lyrics are entertaining… but the most important thing is that the Ugly Duckling should be a star - and Gilz Terera is.
Mail on Sunday
Honk! The Ugly Duckling at the National is in a different league, a real Christmas quacker… David Bamber's Gander, a useless RAF wing commander, who leads the wild goose chase, is a show stopping delight; the camp extravaganza, in which the entire cast in clinging green lycra, can-can in flippers brings the house down. Anthony Drewe's lyrics wittily drain the duck pond of every possible pun…They take flight on George Stiles's effortlessly chirpy score. And Julia McKenzie's production goes swimmingly. A deliciously ticklish entertainment.
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