Christmas quackers: Sarah Hemming on the politically correct Ugly Duckling

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Forget Mother Goose - this Christmas there's a new fowl play on the boards: a musical adaptation of The Ugly Duckling at the Watermill Theatre, Bagnor. Hans Christian Andersen's sad cygnet has already been immortalised in Danny Kaye's song, but in this show, by lyricist Anthony Drewe and composer George Stiles, he moves with the times, referred to throughout as the 'aesthetically challenged farmyard fowl'.

Drewe and Stiles's musical has thrown out the tasteless and saucy in favour of a politically correct treatment. 'We wanted to get away from the idea that when he was ugly he was unacceptable, while once he became beautiful he was okay,' Drewe says. And audiences needn't expect any daffy fluffy duck outfits either. 'The characters will be people with duckish characteristics.'

Laudable enough, but aren't sensitive morals just a tad boring? Drewe acknowledges this, but points out that there is plenty of unsound behaviour to boost the comedy. 'The mother and father ducks are pretty unreconstructed. He's not a new drake and won't take his turn at sitting on the nest, which leads to friction.'

Drewe and Stiles have worked together before, most notably on Just So, a musical based on the Kipling stories that they are currently adapting for Steven Spielberg. But Drewe vows that his next show will be a departure. 'I did a degree in zoology and people think I can only write shows about animals. I'm determined that my next one won't have an animal in it.'

For listing see Pantomime Guide below