Honk! - Stiles & Drewe's 2000 Olivier Award winning "poultry tale", originally staged at Newbury's Watermill Theatre and later at The National Theatre to great acclaim - has been newly hatched at Chiswick's delightfully intimate Tabard Theatre in a production helmed by director Madeline Loftin, who skilfully manages to utilize the theatre's tiny space to create a hugely entertaining show.
From the outset, Chris Hone's cleverly attractive yet highly functional design draws the audience into the world of the "farmyard" and Ms. Loftin's staging and Mark White's choreography never cease to amuse and charm the audience.
The songs in particular shine through in this production - so much credit is due to musical director Tom Theakston. And credit is certainly due to every member of the incredibly talented ensemble cast - Kathryn Rutherford, Katie Scott, Lydia Grant, Marina Kelman, Lydia Jenkins, Joe Sterling, Tim Oxbrow, Alex Papachristou, Benjamin Vivian-Jones and Mark White.
It also helps, of course, that the piece itself is so strong. Adapted from Hans Christian Anderson's belovEd Morality fairy tale about finding the inner beauty within oneself, concerning an Ugly Ducking's journey from being taunted and humiliated from birth for being "different" through to his transformation into a beautiful swan, Anthony Drewe and George Stiles crafted a witty and enchanting musical, overflowing with catchy songs. And the show seems as fresh now as it did when it was first performed in 1993.
I was totally engrossed as the story unfolded - from the moment when 'Ugly' is hatched and taunted by his "siblings" (played with great comic aplomb by Lydia Jenkins and Benjamin Vivian-Jones), through his escapades with Tim Oxbrow's deliciously evil cat who wants to eat him and at every step of his journey when he gets lost and tries to find his way home and eventually discovers who he really is.
Katherine Rutherford plays Ida, the adoring mother who urges Ugly to "hold his head up high", with great tenderness and sounds fantastic when she sings. West End veteran Mark White uses his consummate comic timing to nail all the great hilarious one-liners. Joe Sterling's "journey" from ugly duckling to beautiful swan is both incredibly funny and poignantly heartbreaking at all the right moments - and the beautiful tone of his vocals shows off the show's two most memorable songs ("Different" and "Now I've Seen You") at their very best.
At a time when much of the musical theatre fare on display consists of shows that often sacrifice originality, craft and wit for spectacle and commercial pop scores, it is refreshing to see a show that is "different". And - as in the show's allegorical tale - "different" is a good thing.