Union Theatre, London – until 22 April 2017
This special 20th anniversary production of the musical is imaginative, creative and a perfect treat for families over Easter.
Ok, so there is something you all need to know about me. I have a bird phobia – which makes being in London surrounded by pigeons occasionally difficult – so you would be right in questioning my wisdom in going to see a musical about birds. But even I with my fear of birds came out adoring the story and the music of Honk!, based on Hans Christian Andersen’s beloved story The Ugly Duckling.
Ugly is a very unusual duck. He is grey and in comparison with his brothers and sisters is apparently very ugly, so he is teased mercilessly by all those who meet him – until one day he is led astray by a cat who just wants his lunch and gets lost along the way, relying on a number of quirky characters to lead him home again.
Andy Room’s production of this little seen musical is wonderfully imaginative and creative from the use of puppetry for the little ducklings all the way through to the use of effective lighting and material to create water and snow that will capture young audience’s imagination. But it is also completely genuine and heartfelt in intent, never coming across as preachy.
Right at the heart of the production is George Stiles and Anthony Drewe’s wonderfully playful music and lyrics that has your feet tapping along such as the lively (and hilariously honest) ‘A Poultry Tale’ but also the heartfelt but still playful ‘Warts and All’. None of the music ever feels misplaced and really helps drive the narrative and the message that its ok to be different – no matter who you are right through every song.
Liam Vincent Kilbridge as Ugly plays the role as charmingly naive but without ever coming across as insincere – his genuine heartbreak as he realises perhaps he doesn’t fit in with the rest of his family really hits the heart and we are able to see the world through Ugly’s eyes with ease. Meanwhile, Ellie Nunn as Ugly’s mum Ida is a strong personality that really captures the bond between mother and son – particularly seen through the number ‘Every Tear a Mother Cries’. Sam Sugarman as cat is a smooth villain slinking around the stage with ease and delivers ‘You Can Play With Your Food’ with style and humour.
While it might seem as though the story in general has been padded out slightly to the extent that the production loses some of its energy towards the end being a little more wordy – which might possibly lose some of the younger audience’s attention briefly, for the most part it is engaging thanks to a lot of bird related humour in the script that delights.
The production does make full use of the space, but the choreography seems to be slightly constrained, suggesting a need for extra room for the production to fully spread its wings.
But Honk! has plenty of personality, charm and imagination that will put a lot of smiles on audience’s faces from beginning to end.