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26 June 2010

Charles Cryer Theatre

Stephen Macvicar

Thank you very much for inviting me to Avalon Theatre Company’s production of “Honk!” recently at the Charles Cryer Theatre. Thanks also to Clare Gollop for making the necessary ticketing arrangements. I had never attended an Avalon production before and I was looking forward to my first visit.


Ugly is born, of course, as a Duckling but is soon becomes clear that he is no ordinary Duck. Mocked on the farmyard, pursued by the ever-hungry Cat, Ugly finds himself lost on a nearby marsh in the middle of a duck-shoot and embarks on an odyssey through the countryside, meeting a battery of colourful characters and finding himself, and love, along the way.

So much has been said and written about this show since its emergence from the National Theatre a few years ago and indeed this is my fifth visit to Honk! in little over two years as its popularity grows amongst societies. “Honk!” is George Stiles’ and Anthony Drewe’s musical version of the wonderful Hans Christian Andersen ugly duckling story. It won the Olivier award for Best New Musical in 2000, beating The Lion King, which was favourite for the prize at the time. It is a family musical, where the cast largely take the guise of farmyard animals. The music has some strong ballads, is catchy and quirky, the lyrics are witty and decidedly tongue-in-cheek. The cast seemed to have as much fun as the audience on the night I attended. In addition there were plenty of parts to fill and there were several opportunities for strong cameos within the story.

Often performed by kids, this mix of adults and youth in this Avalon production of Honk! had the necessary smattering of fable about it. It had moments of panto with boos and hisses not far away and in most instances, adults trying to portray the essence and physicality of being an animal. This was a very pleasant evening’s entertainment by Avalon Theatre Company under the Direction of Sue Davids, the Musical Direction of Nick Shaikh with additional Choreography from Clare Gollop. It was a shame to see a relatively modest audience in attendance on the final night but I gather other performances were better attended.

Sue went with a fairly minimalist set which encompassed a two step split level for the ducklings nest and some bulrushes by a pond but allowed ample space for the significant amount of ensemble work. Lighting and Sound plus back projection added much to the production. There were some other nice touches including the mobile phone, the fishes, the bubbles and the reference to ‘Come Dine With Me’

The Wardrobe team had a task on their hands. The performers are not supposed to dress up as animals but merely convey the characteristics and I felt the balance was spot on.

This was an ensemble production which had a real community feel about it. The ensemble were a varying mix of experienced performers and others who are relatively new to the stage and still gaining experience and learning their stagecraft. Whilst there was some enthusiasm in the production numbers, I felt that they generally lacked energy and attack. The ensemble singing needed to be much louder and delivered with more confidence and quality. I’m sure that will come with good direction and with more experience gained. Amongst the individual performances, there are literally too many to mention each and every one but here are a few observations.

The maternal character of ‘Ida’ has plenty business in the early part of the show and I thought Clare Gollop brought across just about the right amount of sentiment and sung pleasantly.

This was the first time that I had seen Laurence Irvine (as ‘Drake’) on stage and whilst I enjoyed Laurence’s operatic style voice and there was some tenderness in his portrayal, I think Laurence needs to work some on his acting style to make his performance a little more natural.

Aiden Godwin showed all the vulnerability and shy cuteness that the part of ‘Ugly’ demands. There was a youthful naivety there for all to see and appreciate and his voice was probably the strongest on show.

Similarly, Alan Smith as the French ‘Cat’ was sleek and slick at the same time. Alan was extremely cheesy when required and played the panto baddie to a T.

Judy Abbott as the busybody moorhen ‘Maureen’ was always involved and teamed up well with ‘Ida’ for the delightful ‘The Joys of Motherhood’.

Denis Steer emerged towards the end of Act One as ‘Greylag the Goose’ and was suitably bumptious as the old school Wing Commander. Denis was ably assisted by his gaggle of geese flying in formation, impressively deputised by Christine Wheeler as ‘Dot’. ‘Wild Goose Chase’ was an impressive formation number which utilised most of the cast.

‘Queenie’ and ‘Lowbutt’ played by Heather Crosskey and the fantastic David Bonner respectively gave an insightful rendition and put quite a twist on ‘It Takes All Sorts’ at the beginning of Act Two. David, in particular, brought some well appreciated humour to his role and was a comedic mixture of Hinge & Bracket and Miss Jean Brodie.

Just as the audience were settling down after the well delivered and sentimental song ‘Now I’ve Seen You’, on to stage burst Judy Abbott in her additional role as the ‘Bullfrog’. This is a gem of a cameo part for a comedian. The part has a fantastically memorable show-stopping song and I thought Judy and her froglets did very well.

Sue Cooper as ‘Penny’ portrayed all the elegance and grace required for this small but important role as ‘Ugly’s’ love interest.

There were other stalwart characterisations and as an ensemble they particularly worked well together. I would like to give a mention to ‘Beaky’, ‘Fluff’, ‘Billy’ and ‘Downy’ who were totally cute and were performed by Ella McAdam, Hannah Heinpuu, Hannah Shury Smith and Gbeke Ajayi respectively. The Poultry chicks Natasha Brixey, Anna Miller, Michael Sayer and Annabelle Smith were equally deserving of praise as were the assembled Fish and Geese.

Once again thank you for inviting me to the Charles Cryer Theatre and best wishes for your next production. Hopefully you will consider becoming members of the National Operatic & Dramatic Association (NODA) and that I or a colleague could attend and review on a regular basis.

Hopefully, I will get a chance to see you again soon and if I can be of any assistance at any time, please do not hesitate to contact me.

Kindest Regards


Stephen Macvicar