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posted/updated: 23 Oct 2015 -
Book and lyrics by Anthony Drewe. Music by George Stiles. Based on the Hans Christian Andersen story The Ugly Duckling
society/company: Gillingham Dramatic Society (directory)
performance date: 23 Oct 2015
venue: The Hazlitt, 36 Earl Street, Maidstone ME14 1PP
reviewer/s: Susan Elkin (Sardines review)

Honk! which was new to me is a rather odd, episodic reworking of Hans Christian Andersen’s famous story of The Ugly Duckling and if bisexual Andersen intended it to be a subtle tale of coming to terms with being different then Styles and Drewe make the message even more obvious.

The show is, I think, let down by its title which suggests to many people that it’s a children’s piece. Actually, although it’s a perfectly acceptable piece for family audiences – young children will miss the central character’s real predicament – this is really an adult show with a lot of quite sophisticated humour including all those bird puns such as “pigeon English” and “wild goose chase” not to mention outrageous rhymes such as ack-ack and quack quack and pastiches like greylag geese who are really RAF men and women. A different title (are Styles and Drewe listening?) might attract larger audiences than the regrettably thin house I shared the show with in Maidstone.

In the competent hands of Gillingham Dramatic Society Honk! makes an enjoyable evening’s theatre and it’s a real joy to see a large company ranging in age from under 7 to over 70 working together as an effective ensemble. There are a number of quite small roles in Honk – characters which feature in just one episode so there’s lots of scope to give ensemble members plenty to do – Jeni Boyns and Debbie Brennan making a fine and funny job of Queenie and Lowbutt, a sexy cat and a querulous chicken respectively, for example.

Rachel Ann Crane is outstanding as Ida, the mother of the clutch of ducklings which includes an initially unidentified cygnet. She is warm, convincing and her singing voice is rich, resonant and well controlled. And there is a remarkable performance from 15 year old Toby Turpin as Ugly. He is a talented (and well trained) actor with a strong singing voice, a suitably bashful manner and masses of that all-elusive stage presence.

Lee Round works hard and is pretty entertaining as Drake, Ida’s rather tiresome mate, a goggles and flipper-wearing bullfrog and as Snowy although his accent work sometimes slips and occasionally affects audibility. Jack Read, a commanding actor, creates a deliciously, charismatically plotting cat trying to trap Ugly so that he can eat him until he gets entertainingly distracted by Queenie’s slinky manner.

Most of the cast rise impressively to the challenges of George Stiles’s demanding four part harmony and the range of styles required. And the eight piece band under Peter Bailey does a fine job with the imaginative, sometimes witty, scoring.

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