Everyone knows the children's tale of the Ugly Duckling who is bullied by the other creatures because of his looks. Ugly is lured to leave home by a psychotic hungry cat and meets a troupe of tap-dancing frogs and a goose-stepping gander with illusions of military prowess before eventually discovering that he's no ugly duckling after all.
While not exactly as Hans Christian Andersen wrote it, Stiles and Drewe have taken the theme of the outcast and crafted it into a charming, funny and uplifting musical drama. As with all the best family-centred entertainment, Honk! can be enjoyed on many levels - as a simple fairy-story, or as a tale of a mother's fierce love for her child, or even a narrative on diversity and acceptance - but it works best as a straightforward and colourful musical.
Directed by Neil-Michael Marriott, this revival is enthusiastically played by a predominantly young company who make the most of the small space of the Lost Theatre. The set is minimal - a duck pond is created with multi-coloured balls that "splash" into the audience - but mostly though, the setting is left to the audience's imagination.
Of the well-cast company, Andrew Newton makes a sweetly bewildered Ugly, and there's a beautifully-sung performance by Rhiannon Rose as his duck-mother, Ida, who never gives up on her "odd-looking" son.
TomCat, played by Tobias James, is suitably evil and focused on his lunch (Ugly). Thomas Hewitt gives a convincing performance as Ida's husband Drake, the lazy redneck eventually coming good, leading the ducklings to repent their bullying and join the hunt for their missing brother.
Some of the humour of the piece is solidly panto in style, with terrible puns and miscommunications. These don't always work, due in part to some of the cast's comedy timing not quite hitting the mark. But Chris Carroll as Greylag, the RAF-inspired leader of the geese, Siobhan McConnon as the domesticated hen, Lowbutt, and Charlie England as the Bullfrog, are comedy gold.
The band, seated on a mezzanine above the stage, do a brilliant job, though occasionally overwhelming some of the voices, especially those of the younger members of the cast.
Overall, Honk! is great fun, a good entertaining story for all the family. Shame it's not on for a longer run, but it's the sort of show that is bound to come back again. Let's hope it does.
- Carole Gordon