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A CurtainUp London London Review

Tonight I will put you through the kind of humiliation you wouldn't find on a Japanese Game Show.
---- Hamish McColl
Hamish McColl vertical and Sean Foley horizontal
(Photo: Hugo Glendinning)
Whilst London is being threatened daily with an outbreak of deadly bird flu, we find an outbreak of birds on stage. Last week's Shoot the Crow I thought was the finest comedy this year; the latest omelette from Hamish McColl, Sean Foley and Kenneth Branagh is maybe the worst one. I note also the Donmar's production of Ibsen's The Wild Duck opening in December, whilst at the Tricycle there is currently a revival of Arnold Wesker's Chicken Soup with Barley and Matthew Bourne's Swan Lake is on for a week next month in Wimbledon.

Of course we were hoping for a show that would fly off like The Play What I Wrote based on the Morecambe and Wise show, from the same director and acting team which I really liked. But the goose laid her golden egg for that show and Ducktastic is just plain, lame duck. The writing team for The Play What I Wrote included one of the original Morecambe and Wise scriptwriters, Eddie Braben, and we miss him. It is as though the bird-brained writers typed "duck jokes" into Google and produced a list of cheesy, corny, old chestnuts which are hard to swallow. At the beginning of the play I did laugh (and groan) but my good will ran out and by the interval I wanted to swiftly wing it.

Ducktastic is a loosely based sendup of Siegfried and Roy's Siberian tiger magic show of Las Vegas. We know that when Foley comes in late to the auditorium and into the front seat of the stalls carrying a huge Yucca in a pot, that there is a plant in the audience. The plot is too silly to waste any more time on. But it involves McColl's magician getting back with his estranged wife who has flown the marital nest and a bird in the form of an usherette (Alex Kelly) for Foley, supposedly a pet shop owner from Portsmouth. There are some magic tricks and illusions from Simon Drake but the effect is tackiness rather than wonderment.

Hamish McColl is a charming clown and when dressed in a wig as Ursula, he makes a surprisingly cheeky girl although he compares himself physically to Anne Widdecombe (English Conservative Member of Parliament known for her fine spinsterly speeches rather than her beauty). I liked too the two fully nude suits, wonderful creations in flash coloured stockingnette and each anatomically correct, and the silver padded elaborate magician/spacemen costumes but remember "Fine feathers do not make fine birds".

On a more serious note I was concerned for the welfare of these poor ducks subjected to flashing lights, clapping and raucous laughter. Sometimes a wooden duck was substituted for the real thing and I really see no reason why mechanical ducks could not have been used throughout. It is a mediocre show and no amount of live animal cutesiness can wing this show above the standard of a small regional pantomime. If the Animal Rights protestors are queuing up to protest at the treatment meted out to the ducks, I will be right behind them with a placard protesting at cruelty to human audiences for the pain inflicted by so many bad puns.

These ducks would have been more palatable served up to a vegetarian at one of the nearby Soho restaurants as Peking Duck. This is no feather in the cap of the producers. Ducktastic left me as grouchy as a grouse. The show is as bad egg as this review. I don't expect Ducktastic to nest long at the Albery. This duck is a turkey!

Written by Hamish McColl and Sean Foley
Directed by Kenneth Branagh

Starring: Hamish McColl and Sean Foley
With: Liz Crowther, Clive Hayward, Alex Kelly, Kyle Reece, Simone de la Rue, Ruby Snape
Design: Alice Power
Choreography: Michael Rooney
Music: Steve Parry
Magic by Simon Drake
Lighting: Patrick Woodroffe
Ducks by Birds and Animals UK
Sound: Simon Baker
Casting: We do not normally list the person responsible for casting but in this case it is Sarah Bird
Produced by David Pugh, Dafydd Rogers and Scott Rudin
Running time: One hour fifty minutes with one interval
Box Office: 0870 950 0902
Booking until 15th July 2006
Reviewed by Lizzie Loveridge based on 20th October 2005 performance at the Albery Theatre, St Martins Lane, London WC2 (Tube: Leicester Square)
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