In a fitting tribute to a show that specifically aims to break down theatrical conventions, Tom Bowtell casts off the shackles of tradition and goes along to the second night of Ducktastic! at the Albery to see the feathers (and some of the cast members) fly.
It has been said by some cynical souls that once you’ve seen one parodic-comedy-about-a-failing-magician-who-makes-a-last-gasp-effort-to-win-back-his-estranged-wife-by-launching-a-fraudulent-show-about-a-mind-reading-duck-called-Daphne-who-turns-out-to-be-magical-after-all-and-sends-one-member-of-the-audience-potty-and-another-to-the-Taj-Mahal, you’ve seen them all, but I believe that Ducktastic!, the latest collaboration between The Right Size (Hamish McColl and Sean Foley) and director Kenneth Branagh, is an exception to that rule.
The show starts, as many do, with Al Pacino talking about the dawn of time as half a 50ft duck descends gracefully from the ceiling. Within seconds of its arrival, this quacking goliath releases a man-size egg, out of which emerges… another, normal sized, live duck; called Daphne. It is at this point that proceedings start to get a bit odd.
Please don’t panic, readers, I’m not about to regale you with the entire outlandish plot of Ducktastic! as to do so would A: spoil the experience for you and B: force me to revisit some of the most eggshaustingly ingenious puns of my entire existence – something my fragile psyche isn't quite ready for. Let’s just say that the story is odder than a pair of eccentric socks that are different in colour, size, shape and nationality, and features a magician called Christophe Ursula Sassoon, at least two fully-functioning nude suits, a plant in the audience which is a yukka, an inadvertently-violent usherette and some ducks.
Ah yes, the ducks. There are quite a few of them. In addition to the massive fowl that launches both halves of the show, Ducktastic! also features Foley and McColl dressed as little ducklings, singing a jaunty number, a flock of animatronic robot ducks and at least 10 real life ducks, who do some impressive gallivanting throughout the show. The play also features a deluge of duck gags, including, as one duck pops its head out from between some sofa cushions, the line: “oh look, it’s a Peking duck”.
All of which brings us back to Ducktastic’s vicious and sadistic use of wea-puns of mass destruction: I counted at least 89 of them during the show which even ended with a rousing chorus of the much-loved song “duck you”. This tally doesn’t take in to account a further 14 double entendres which I also picked up on, “I felt something between us as we danced”, being one of the more printable ones. Interestingly, at no point does anyone make a pun about “having a fowl on the stage”, which is disappointing.
In addition to its cascade of puns, its ludicrous plot and all those ducks, Ducktastic! is also remarkable for its combination of the Right Size’s traditional physical tomfoolery and some brilliantly baffling magical illusions, created by Simon Drake. It is typical of the contrary and theatrical double-think of The Right Size that in a show which is intentionally packed with gags that are cheesier than Switzerland, and which is designed to give the impression of shambolic chaos, the physical theatre and illusions are both tightly-choreographed and slickly carried out.
In many ways, Ducktastic! is thus very much the son and heir of A Play What I Wrote, as it features Eric Morecambe-esque knee wobbling, jaunty tunes, theatrical non-conformity, physical larks and lots of silliness; in some ways however, it is completely different, as it features lots of ducks.
Ducktastic! is booking at the Albery theatre until 15 July 2006.