It’s hard to imagine a show more perfectly designed to appeal to audience members as young as six, while still giving the grown ups a great time too. And it’s hard to imagine a production more perfectly designed to bring the show to ‘eggciting’ (yes, this ‘poultry tale’ has a ‘pun’ishing script!) life.
O’Connor’s brightly-coloured set is a small miracle. The audience sit on three sides of an oval farmyard, the duck pond brilliantly evoked by a ball pit full of blue and white balls that get satisfyingly chucked in and out of the audience to general delight as the ducklings learn to swim. The hutch full of eggs doubles as keyboards, some of the flowers are microphones and others, muppet-like, make delightful appearances through trapdoors in the floor to join in the action and the songs.
The costumes work brilliantly to evoke these fun, anthropomorphic farmyard creatures. Taking a cue from the hoedown suggested in the opening number, dress code is country yokel/hillbilly and instruments include a washboard! The girls wear full frilly skirts complete with petticoats and bloomers and bustles at the back to suggest the plump rears of our feathered friends and everyone sports wide brimmed hats with appropriate beaks.
The actor/musicians are uniformly ‘egg’cellent. With wonderfully-observed movement quality they perform both dialogue and musical numbers (spot-on musical staging by Sam Spencer) as well as playing Sarah Travis’ ravishing musical arrangements of Stiles' eclectic score. There’s something magical about listening to Ugly (winning Mark Anderson) singing of his love for swan Penny (sweet-voiced Sioned Saunders) as she appears above accompanying him on the flute.
The four children playing the ducklings (and froglets too) perform with assurance and relish – and, on the night I attended, proved the favourite characters of the young audience members I spoke to! Most of the eight adults play several roles and there are terrific cameos from rascally tomcat Philip Reed, Alexander Evans’ goose squadron leader and Simon Slater’s scene-stealing cheeky chappie bullfrog.
Like all good children’s stories, Drewe’s book has heart and soul. The theme of mother love shines through, especially in Verity Quade’s heartfelt Ida, the mother duck who loves all her fledglings. There are striking contemporary resonances when her offspring’s disappearance is publicised on TV amidst speculation of abduction or bullying. The applause was of course ‘egg’static …
- Judi Herman