Theatre: The truth about swans and ducks

Click to follow
The Independent Culture
Surely some mistake with that title? I'm not much of a naturalists, and, God knows, the last person on earth who could be described as a car mechanic, but I'd always understood that honking was something done by geese or by automobiles. This utterly delicious new musical version of the Hans Christian Andersen story by George Stiles and Anthony Drewe has widened my horizons on the subject. Hatching out of a giant egg as a gangly, engaging black guy in grey school uniform and glasses, the aesthetically-challenged duckling (Gilz Terera) is here the lump that dare not quack its name, unlike his siblings who are all clothes-catalogue kiddie pin-ups half-mast yellow dungarees and trendy baseball caps. Our hero's verbal identity crisis is a mark of his misfit status.

. This very upmarket panto - directed with exhilarating vim, bounce and impeccable timing by Julie McKenzie - is a lot more fun than Ibsen's Wild Duck or TV's The Bill, ducky and, as you can see, its determination to get in every animal pun imaginable is catching. Set on a giant bullrush- fringed pond, Honk! pulls off the considerable trick of delighting children and winking wickedly at adults simultaneously.

The outrageous bits were more to my taste than the faintly sanctimonious numbers where we were assured of every creature's right to be different, as though we were at a concert by Barbra Streisand (whose films are a continual re-make of this story). The bits where the show hits sublimety are those involving Jasper Britton's brilliantly funny Cat, who definitely puts the purr in pervey with his Salvador Dali whiskers, spats, pin-stripes and distinctly dubious liking for young duck flesh. ("The macrame classes seem to have paid off," he camply insinuates on encountering Ugly trapped in a giant net). And one's feathers stand on end with joy when David Burt's grinning bespectacled Bullfrog (a cross between Christopher Biggins and Max Miller) officiates at a bullfrog dance routine that brings on the whole cast in tight-fitting pond-life outfits.

In rep, 0171-452 3000. A version of this review appeared in later editions of yesterday's newspaper