If you are feeling the pinch – possibly both on your wallet and your waistline – after the excesses of the last few days (or weeks, depending on your commitment to this most tinselled time of year), spare a thought for MP Robert Houston, whose love of everything from massage chairs to cleaners has led him into a topical expenses pickle.
Luckily for the government PR’s department, Houston is a fictional character in Colin Swash and Dan Patterson’s comedy, The Duck House, playing a stone’s throw from the Houses of Parliament – if you’re an Olympic stone thrower – at the Vaudeville theatre. To celebrate one month in the West End, cast members and London stage regulars Nancy Carroll, Debbie Chazen and Simon Shepherd got their political thinking caps on to reveal exactly how they’d like to see the country run.
With no mention of hanging baskets or moats between them, read on to discover why Carroll would put milk back on the agenda, why Chazen’s most extravagant purchase involved powdered food and how Shepherd is rather taking to being slapped in the face nine shows a week.
Describe your character in six words.
Carroll: Sassy, a-political, non-administrative, self-serving cushion plumper.
Chazen: Bolshie Daily Mail reading Russian housekeeper.
Shepherd: Tory, entitled, controller, snob, needy, clubbable.
What is your favourite moment in the show?
Carroll: The magic egg trick. In one moment before the egg is revealed, everyone holds their breath with gleeful anticipation.
Chazen: From start to finish, the show is a non-stop whirlwind of fun and hilarity, so it’s really difficult to pick one particular favourite moment. Also, I don’t want to give anything away! That said there are a couple of instances involving animals and/or birds that I find particularly enjoyable to watch in the first case and perform in the second.
Shepherd: Being slapped by Felicity Houston, because he secretly loves it.
What bill would you have passed first if you were an MP for the day?
Carroll: Milk back in the classrooms and dog licences reinstated. Oh and free cake!
Chazen: If I were MP for a day, I would get rid of money and bring back bartering in goats and chickens. I believe money is the root of all evil! I would ban all those payday loan companies, which charge 1000% interest, and force all billionaires to give half their dosh to the poor and needy. And me. So I can buy goats and chickens.
Shepherd: Free university and higher education so that life becomes a more even playing field for the young.
Who would be your dream Prime Minister and Deputy Prime Minister?
Carroll: Tony Benn and Russell Brand. Old school left wing open politics.
Chazen: My dream Prime Minister would be Sandi Toksvig. I’m fairly sure she could get things done efficiently and with panache and a sense of humour. Her Deputy could be Stephen Fry, although I’d quite like him to be King. Morgan Freeman would be God, obvs.
Shepherd: Ben Miller as Prime Minister, me as Deputy.
What is the most extravagant thing you have ever purchased?
Carroll: A house! Then maybe a wedding. Maybe some holidays.
Chazen: My fella and I went on a mad diet for a year during which we didn’t eat any actual food, just packs of powder with water added. So the day before we started we treated ourselves to a last blow out meal at Heston Blumenthal’s restaurant The Fat Duck. It was either go there for one dinner or go on holiday to Rome for five whole days, and I have to tell you it was worth every penny! It was the best meal either of us have had or will ever have. It was so good it made us cry. Or maybe that was because we knew we wouldn’t be eating again for a year…!
Shepherd: Four children’s private education.
How will you spend your days when the show is up and running?
Carroll: Getting ready for Christmas and, after Christmas, looking after my family and maybe the odd marriage.
Chazen: I make sure I do some form of exercise every day and recently succumbed to purchasing Insanity, a bonkers 60-day American fitness programme that promises to be “the hardest workout ever put on DVD”. I start Monday. I shall then spend the rest of each day recovering, I expect….
Shepherd: Sleeping and going to the gym or swimming to keep fit.
What is your most memorable moment from being involved in the show so far?
Carroll: It was a moment when something went wrong on stage – details unnecessary – but the show came to a complete halt as the audience were unstoppably hysterical. We were all laughing, but as a team, totally together and coping as one. It was fantastic.
Chazen: I do love it when things go wrong, either with props or lines or the set, which always results in some very funny ad-libbing – usually from comedy genius Ben Miller – and corpsing from all of us. Thank God we’re not doing a Jacobean tragedy, we can get away with all sorts of naughtiness in this show!
Shepherd: Being introduced to a women sex therapist at a post-show drinks party… she certainly enjoyed Sir Norman’s characteristics.