The Theatreguide.London Review
Vaudeville Theatre Winter 2013-2014
This new comedy by Dan Patterson and Colin Swash is part political satire and part wild farce, and if the first part, clever as it is, is already on its way to being dated, the second is zany and timeless enough to carry a laugh-filled evening.
A bit of background for non-Brits: a couple of years ago Britain was hit with the scandalous news that (big surprise) some Members of Parliament were fiddling their expense accounts. Offences ranged from the trivial (padding a restaurant bill) to the go-to-jail criminal (totally fraudulent claims), and the symbol of it all that grasped the public imagination was one MP charging the taxpayers for an elaborate duck refuge in his garden pond.
The hapless hero of The Duck House is a Labour MP about to switch with great fanfare to the Tories when the scandal breaks. He's guilty of a virtual catalogue of offences, having furnished his home, put his wife and son on the payroll, and indeed bought a duck house for his pond, and the man from the Tories is coming to make sure he's squeaky clean.
So the bulk of the play consists of ever more frantic attempts to hide things from the Tory guy, who turns out to have naughty secrets of his own he wants to hide. And the play is soon satisfactorily full of people moving furniture about, going out one door just as the person who they mustn't meet comes in another, losing their trousers and, if not quite getting a pie in the face, then something close to it.
Before this all really gets going, the first twenty minutes or so are filled with name-dropping topical jokes, generally of the formula '[insert name of politician] is so [insert appropriate adjective] that . . . .' They're all very funny, as you might expect from two playwrights whose previous experience includes being gag writers for TV's Have I Got News For You and Mock The Week, but I suspect that they will all be unintelligible within five years.
Fortunately farce is timeless, and once people start rushing about, hiding in wardrobes and talking at cross purposes, and once we factor in a Russian maid with politics far to the right of the Daily Mail, knee-breaking loan sharks, a man in a panda suit and an acupuncturist prepared to provide extra personal services for a fee, you don't have to know your Miliband from your Cameron to get caught up in the fun.
Director Terry Johnson is clever enough to know that the essence of farce is speed, and he keeps things moving fast enough to keep the characters and the audience off balance.
Ben Miller proves an excellent physical clown, generating and sustaining an image of uninterrupted panic throughout, while Nancy Carroll ably provides balance, contrast and a few surprises as his seemingly steadier wife.
Simon Shepherd is appropriately upright and stuffy as the Tory about to be exposed in several ways, Debbie Chazen is droll as the Russian, and James Musgrave deserves special praise for pulling off a magnificent double-take while dressed as a panda.
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Review - The Duck House - Vaudeville Theatre 2013