Tuesday, 4 April 2017

REVIEW: HONK! at the Union Theatre

“Out there, somewhere, someone’s gonna love ya. Warts and all!” If there was ever a more universal message, in lyric form, its this. Based on the Hans Christian Anderson fairytale, “Honk!” is a musical retelling of the classic, “The Ugly Duckling”. Set against the back drop of a farm, involving all sorts of poultry and feline folk, its a children’s story with themes many can relate to; namely, the struggles of being different.

Written by the talented musical duo, Stiles and Drewe (Half a Sixpence, Mary Poppins, Wind in The Willows), “Honk!” celebrates its 20th Anniversary with this latest production at The Union Theatre. A blacked out studio, The Union Theatre is an open and intimate space, using minimal set, that gave the impression of an old derelict barn.

In this actor-muso production, the cast multi-roled throughout, and both costume and a variety of accents made these character distinctions clear. Despite the absence of feathers and novelty ears, the animals are conveyed successfully as their human “counter parts”.

The cast are also responsible for the scene changes and some special effects. Unfortunately, some of these transitions were not executed smoothly, and this gave both a clumsy and under rehearsed feel to the show. Being in such an intimate theatre, it is difficult to disguise the smallest of mistakes. The simple ideas of trap doors, hay bail sofas and fish hats are both creative and imaginative, however, unless performed without fault, they are eye catching for the wrong reasons. It was a shame that the cast were not mic’d; just because a venue is relatively small, doesn’t mean you should take the sound balance for granted. 

There are some lovely moments in this production, and the finer details have not gone unnoticed. As Ugly blossoms from a grey cygnet to a swan, the transformation is gradual through out the show; removing many layers of grey jumpers, scarves and hats at various points, in the lead up to his grand reveal. Also, the geese, who are usually portrayed as RAF envoys, instead took on the persona of a Salvation Army band, which lent itself well to the actor-muso production.

Liam Vincent Kilbride as Ugly was innocent and endearing. His wide eyed and
naive outlook on the world allowed the audience to really empathise with him. Ellie Nunn is a warm hearted “home bird” as Ida, and with both her subtle comedy and motherly distress, she is likeable character. Leon Scott’s Drake (a father “ducking out of his responsibilities”) was excellent, however it was his secondary role of Greylag that stole the show. The ensemble worked very well together, but with a show stopping number like “Warts And All”, its hard not to mention Robert Pearce as the ‘Bullfrog’

This family show has some wonderful moments, with fantastic songs, and a poignant message that “different isn’t bad”. However, its awkward and unrefined scene changes do take away from this. With a little more due care and attention to the technicals aspects of the production, this show that has the potential to make you smile. A talented cast not only for their characters, but also their musicianship.

Review bye Claire Redbush 

Rating: ★★★
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