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 Connecting professional and amateur theatre in Newbury, West Berkshire and beyond

Watermill - Honk!

28th November 2007 to 5th January 2008.

From the Newbury Weekly News.

What a quacker!

Puns, pace and poultry appeals across the age range in The Watermill's Honk!

Honk!, at The Watermill, Bagnor, until January 5

Jill Fraser loved this show, which was originally hatched as The Ugly Duckling, or The Aesthetically Challenged Farmyard Fowl by The Watermill 14 years ago.

Stiles and Drewe's musical morphed into HONK! and became an Olivier Award winner in 2000 - higher in the pecking order than Mamma Mia and The Lion King. It has enjoyed more thousands of productions across the world. Go and see its latest incarnation at The Watermill and you'll see why.

The production, refreshed by director Steven Dexter, with a musical re-arrangement by the whizz Sarah Travis, is slick, pacy and witty. Its message - that it's OK to be different -is more relevant than ever, given the issues of bullying, racism and other modern 'isms'. Much more than a story of ducks, it's an entertaining tale about human nature, too.

Set in and around a ball pond, tubes of compressed air snake around the balcony spewing out foam 'eggs' for the children to throw back before the interval.

A delightfully gauche and naive Ugly - the duckling equivalent to the cuckoo in the nest, whose overlong arms on his cable-knit woolly drag pathetically along the floor, is sneered at by his peers, soon eliciting the sympathy of the audience.

His father may question his pedigree, but mum never gives up on him, and neither do we, as he hooks up with the wrong kind of friend, a subversive cool cat who has ambitious plans for lunch back at his snack shack.

He has a lucky escape, gets lost, and learns the hard way of the dangers faced by his feathered friends, before his unexpected transformation, which finally gets him his girl. It's not so much a journey, more his rite of passage. The ensemble of eight actor/musicians, and the splendid young local actors who played the sibling ducklings, goslings and froglets, captured with humour the mannerisms of their characters in music and dance.

On Saturday night, in the row in front, Still (he of the music) and Drewe (he of the words) were loving it, too, relishing afresh the delivery of those great puns of theirs.

This is a great little show which appeals to adults and children alike - even my too-cool-for-school teenage companion.


From the Guardian.

Four stars
Fifteen years ago, a musical based on Hans Christian Andersen's The Ugly Duckling had its world premiere at the tiny Watermill Theatre. The show, written by George Stiles and Anthony Drewe, has gone on to have 3,000 productions worldwide, including one at the National where it scooped an Olivier award.

Now the show has come home to Newbury, and, in a nice touch, it is staged by the same director/designer team of Steven Dexter and Francis O'Connor, who mounted that very first production. Stiles and Drewe have moved on, but the show retains its unique charm with its tale of Ugly, the last hatched son of Ida and Drake, who is different from his siblings.

At the National it was fun but overblown, but the smaller space suits this sprightly little musical well, particularly as O'Connor's ball-pond design introduces a playfulness that should have particular appeal to the more recently hatched members of the audience. This is a young, unselfconscious show that has the same sense of fun and directness as Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice's Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat.

It is performed here with a gentle, whimsical charm and some cheeky comic touches. Like a really good pantomime, it works on many levels, whether it is a simple tale of pond life, the pain of feeling like an outsider, or even as a gay coming-out tale. Read in it what you like, but Ugly's triumphant cry "I am a swan!" will almost certainly melt hearts.

At the preview I caught, the production was not quite oven-ready, but the musical's sense of fun - including a sneaky cat and a goose who resembles a second world war squadron leader - ensures that this is no paltry offering, but a morsel that can be enjoyed by the entire family.


There are reviews in the Oxford Times ("all very friendly and inclusive, it is the perfect way to get young audiences to enjoy theatre"), at The Stage ("a real delight"), at Reviews Gate ("flows along at a fine pace with splendidly pointed performances").