George Stiles and Andrew Drewe have created a fowl musical without a feather or a web in sight and thus they succeed in creating much more believable creatures than had they covered them completely in plume-bedecked chicken wire. Mannerisms and colour schemes, derived directly from the duckpond, tell us exactly who the characters are.
With a characteristic strut and puff, trailing red football scarves and short-legged jeans, Turkey (Martin Callaghan) is unmistakable for what he is. Maureen, the gossipy moorhen (Lindsey Dawson), clucks and frets, whilst Grace (Marilyn Cutts) glides aristocratically in her pink ballgown, waving a gloved hand, handbag on arm - she was once betrothed to a mandarin, we understand.
Ida and Drake, meanwhile, make a perfect couple. He (Norman Pace) is a bovver boy cum reluctant Dad, she (strong-voiced Tracie Bennett) a nestling, comfortable - but tougher than eggshell - mother duck. He would rather waddle off with the lads for a night on the pondweed; she stays home to keep the eggs warm. How exciting to see the eggs getting ready to hatch and, one by one, the new fluffy, fluttery ducklings bursting into life. But one egg remains. A different, darker colour from the rest. Gaunt, grey and gawky "Ugly" (charmingly played by Richard Dempsey) commences his journey in life to a background of derisory cackle and sibling bullying.
Escapades with a roguish Cat, a wartime flying crew, a beautiful snowbird and a frogs' music hall act all follow en route to fully fledged swandom. There's more than a hint of the moral that it's what we are inside that counts, not what we look like. But the lesson is somewhat hidden amongst the high-energy routines and pun-packed lyrics of the songs.
Julia McKenzie's sparkling production features a multi-talented cast, who bring some marvellously magical moments to Hans Christian Andersen's already enchanting tale. The double fowl-feline act of Lowbutt (Marilyn Cutts) and Queenie (Lindsey Dawson) could become a successful TV sitcom in its own right, while Pace's stand-up patter as the plumber-frog is sheer delight, and Clive Rowe's Cat is, I should think, all set to storm Vegas.
The show relies heavily on Chris Davey's lighting design to give instant mood and time changes, and the cast make ample and imaginative use of the uncluttered staging.
Honk! is a very strong ensemble piece. It's fun, it's fast and, above all, it's fresh. At just under two and a half hours, it could be slightly long for the youngest members of the family, but it will doubtless appeal to all other age groups.