The creators of 'The Play What I Wrote' explain why they're sharing the stage with a duck

By Alice Jones
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The Independent Culture

McColl stars as Christophe Sassoon, "a washed-up, ex-Las Vegas magician and vainglorious narcissist", whose comeback show forms the focus of Ducktastic. "He used to have an animal magic act in Las Vegas, but after a disastrous incident with an orang-utan, has returned home to find that he can only get an animal licence for a single duck," explains McColl.

Foley plays Roy Street (renamed Roy de la Rue), a hapless pet-shop owner from Portsmouth who is pulled out of the audience to become Sassoon's assistant, and is subjected to "the kind of humiliation you wouldn't get on a Japanese game show".

Posters for the show depict a heavily fake-tanned McColl and Foley, wearing spangly tuxedos and expressions of intense wonderment (or, in Foley's case, confusion). Similarities with a range of glitzy illusionists are obvious, in particular, Siegfried and Roy, and their death-defying stunts (and close shaves) with tigers. "We enjoyed looking at lots of magic shows," says McColl. "Things disappearing in boxes and people being cut up seemed to be good opportunities for beginning storylines. If a woman disappears in a box, where the hell does she go? And did the person who made her disappear mean to? And what's he going to tell the husband who comes backstage to get her back?"

Ducktastic is not merely a pastiche of a magic show, however. McColl and Foley have learnt some secrets of the craft with the fortuitously named Simon Drake, in order to create some spectacular illusions on stage. And aside from the focus on animal magic, the show has many of the same qualities of the Olivier Award-winning The Play What I Wrote, not least an Eric and Ernie dynamic between comic buffoon and straight man. "I've worked with Sean Foley forever, since 1988, and the opportunity to have a man of stage who is pompous and vainglorious and a poor, unassuming pet-shop owner from the front row who was just hoping for a quiet night out is a very nice opposition for us to be working with," McColl says.

In Ducktastic, the star turn is given over to Daphne, rather than the mystery celebrity guest who graced each night of The Play What I Wrote, but McColl and Foley still boast distinctly starry connections. The pair has teamed up again with Kenneth Branagh, who directed them as Morecambe and Wise. McColl is delighted to break through the common perception of Branagh "in doublet and hose, talking to a skull", enthusing that he is a "an extremely funny man". Singing and dancing will also feature, with choreography by Michael Rooney (son of Mickey), whose recent triumphs include the video for Fatboy Slim's "Weapon of Choice", featuring a deadpan Christopher Walken tap-dancing in a hotel lobby.

It is good old-fashioned comedy, not conjuring, that lies at the heart of the show, however. Some may find it simply old-fashioned, compared with the searing cynicism of stand-up or the comedy of the uncomfortable exemplified by The Office, but McColl is certain that there is room for his style, too. "It's not stand-up comedy, it's 'move-around' comedy - there's not as much of that as there used to be. Visual gags, slapstick, eccentric dancing - all that stuff still delights an audience."

'Ducktastic', Albery Theatre, London WC2 (0870 950 0920)

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