>honk by srt

>reviewed by jeremy samuel

>date: 9 may 2002
>time: 8pm
>venue: the victoria theatre
>rating: *****

>tired already? go home then
>review junkie? whitney, give them this click to sniff

>look, we know that you need to know that we, as responsible reviewers, have some quantifiable categories to rate productions, and are not just relying on some undefinable instinct or gut feeling. So to put your mind at ease, we will give you a logical rating system based on the practitioner's vision / and the reviewer's response of a particular production. Here it is then: ***** : Transcendent / Rapturous. ****: Crystal / Appreciative. ***: Transmitted / Thoughtful. **:Vague / Unsatisfied. * : Uncommunicated / Mystified. Yet in the end, you will feel that this is (1) a cheap attempt to justify the subjective arbitrariness of our rating system (2) buttressed by an interest in the logical (and inevitable) categorisation of such productions, which is (3) undermined by the cheapness of the attempt, and (4) confused by the creeping feeling you are getting that we are dead serious in our feeling that this rating system is an accurate description of the content, intent and quality of the production. Oh please -- does it even matter now? Look, at least we tried.


Another play featuring grown men dressed up as animals? Well, yes and no - like the recent 'Animal Farm', HONK! is a farmyard fable with a moral for the humans to take home. Unlike W!ld Rice's production, though, this musical is aimed at a younger audience - though like all the best children's theatre, there is plenty here to keep the adults entertained.

Everyone knows the story of the ugly duckling who turns out to be a beautiful swan. Anthony Drewe's production takes this tale and, with the help of George Stiles's tuneful score, makes it fresh and arresting. His script is peppered with appalling puns in the best tradition of British pantomime, such as: "It doesn't do for a duck to look sheepish; it confuses the other animals."

>>'like all the best children's theatre, there is plenty here to keep the adults entertained'

Ugly the duckling is played by Sebastian Tan with a sweet, awkward innocence. Ostracised by the rest of the farmyard for looking different, he allows himself to be lured away by their nemesis, the cat. Hossan Leong clearly relishes the campy role of predator with a predilection for tender flesh; "I'll be your friend, ducky," he says silkily, sounding disturbingly like Tony the Tiger in the Frosted Flakes ad.

After Ugly escapes, getting lost in the countryside, he tries to find his way home with the cat in hot pursuit. Meanwhile his mother Ida (Ida-Eider, geddit? As in eiderdown?) sets out on her own solitary search for him. British actress Ria Jones is excellent as Ida, both resilient in her determination to find her son and vulnerable in the knowledge that he might be lost forever.

As the searchers close in on him, Ugly encounters a variety of colourful characters who help him - a bullfrog accompanied by a full chorus of froglets, a cat and hen who share a highly unconventional relationship, and a flight of geese who insist on setting off on a "wild goose chase" to bring Ugly home even though they are in the vicinity of a shooting party. "It's their party," declares one of them, "but we'll fly if we want to."

Peter McKintosh's colourful production design perfectly complements this exuberant romp, all bright colours and over-large props to give the effect of the performers being animal-sized. He cleverly dresses the animals in appropriate human clothes - a hen in fussy tweeds, the ducklings in cute romper suits, and the cat oozing sleaze from every thread of his lounge suit.

The story has a happy ending, of course, with the duckling - now a swan - finding his way back to the farmyard and being reunited with his mother. Drewe's rendition of the fairy tale is warm, wise and witty, and with the aid of a superb cast (particularly Troy Sussman as the bullfrog and Emma Yong as Penny, the duckling's girlfriend) he creates more pure entertainment than one normally encounters in the theatre.