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Review Round-Ups

Critics divided over Duck House

A new satire about the MPs expenses scandal opened at the West End's Vaudeville Theatre earlier this week and split opinion

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Cast members Simon Shepherd, Nancy Carroll, Ben Miller and Diana Vickers attend the after party
© Dan Wooller

Michael Coveney

… While [Ben] Miller does some fairly good frantic rushing about as he tries to disguise his deceitfully funded perks which correspond exactly to some of the items we were regaled with at the time of the exposure … The show dissolves in some deeply unfunny physical antics ... These are the outward trappings of a good farce, but there's no real panic or structure to the proceedings … Miller's best moments are when he's actually standing still, or miming, for reasons that now escape me, slow motion sumo wrestling. It's certainly depressing to be reminded just how little we respect our politicians, but on the day of Nelson Mandela's memorial in Soweto - and Barack Obama's great oratory - it didn't seem to be all that funny. Not in this glibly conceived and poorly executed play, anyway.

Henry Hitchings
Evening Standard

The Duck House is a farcical romp. As satire, this pacy new play by veteran TV writers Dan Patterson and Colin Swash doesn't really have much bite, but there's plenty of uncomplicated humour … The results are relentlessly daft ... Miller often calls to mind John Cleese, with his perfect timing and manic movements. Nancy Carroll adds a touch of elegance… while Debbie Chazen milks the brazen awfulness of Ludmilla. James Musgrave, who plays Houston's son Seb, is adept at looking both bored and bewildered … Though a few scenes are riotous, overall there's not quite enough here to ravish audiences. In the world of contemporary politics, truth is stranger than fiction - and funnier too. Yet if The Duck House isn't a Christmas cracker, for those in search of ribald seasonal entertainment it should fit the bill.

Ben Miller as Robert Houston MP

Charles Spencer
Daily Telegraph

Terry Johnson directs a ripely entertaining production that goes down a treat. Just don't expect anything subtle. This is political satire that uses a bludgeon, rather than a scalpel… Guilty panic – always the motor of farce – ensues and there are some sublime comic moments… [Miller] claims that his wife is his secretary, another source of fraudulent expenses, the only problem being that it becomes crystal clear she has no idea how to work the computer, desperately gripping the mouse in her hand and pointing it at the blank screen as if it were a TV remote … The farcical plot kicks in with panache here, and the sight of the suave Tory smearing himself with ripe Camembert … is bawdy comedy at its best. Ben Miller beautifully captures the amorality and craven panic of the floor-crossing MP … Subtle it certainly ain't, but at its ribald best The Duck House proves genuinely hilarious.

Ian Shuttleworth
Financial Times

... This is a fine production. Terry Johnson directs with equal attention to the broad farce and the sardonic one-liners; the physical business has the kind of precision I normally associate with Sean Foley as a director. Ben Miller makes an effective linchpin ... Nancy Carroll is impregnably middle-class as his wife, and Debbie Chazen makes a wonderful Moscow-mafia housekeeper. But the material doesn't begin to deserve it. The vast majority of the comedy, not just about the expenses matter but taking in passing shots at pretty much every other political "outrage" of recent years, is lazier even than a dedicated couch potato. And satire that does not challenge ends up implicitly reinforcing the values in question, and that makes this not just poor theatre but also pernicious politics.

Paul Taylor

… In the play, there's a strand of easy but enjoyably groan-inducing gags that depend on the benefit of hindsight … It would be a mistake, though, to go to The Duck House expecting the savage indignation of trenchant political satire … Debbie Chazen is hilarious as the dour Russian housekeeper whose pronouncements about tighter border control and sterilising single mothers make the Daily Mail sound like a Fabian pamphlet … The second half kicks off promisingly ... But it doesn't have the loopy buoyancy of Act One and soon descends into tarts-and-toffs farce territory that here feels strained and hackneyed rather than classic. Throughout, though, Ben Miller is a wonderfully winning presence – equally adept at the exasperated verbal sarcasm and the physical slapstick. He almost makes you forget that a lovable rogue is perhaps not the ideal protagonist for a play that deals with corruption