Some people have good weeks. Some people have bad weeks. Ben Miller has the worst weeks ever if the characters he plays are anything to go by.
Suffering a day “More terrible than Ivan The Terrible’s most terrible day,” Robert Houston is no exception. A labour politician trying to wangle a seat with the Tories, he is awaiting a visit from fellow MP and ruler of his destiny Sir Norman Cavendish when the expenses scandal hits the headlines. With extraneous expenses ranging from manure and massage chairs to clocks and cleaners, it is a race against time for Robert and his family to hide the items – including the pouf full of receipts – for which he has made fraudulent claims throughout his political career.
Well-known for playing ill-fated publisher and hapless husband-to-be Howard Steel in The Worst Week Of My Life, Miller brings much of the hysterical humour and endless bad luck found in the hit BBC comedy series to Terry Johnson’s caper-crammed production of The Duck House.
In an energetic performance that combines perpetual panic, infuriated rants and high-pitched squeals, the comedy actor is at home in his new role as the avian abode-owning disbursement dodger whose character evidently amalgamates the MPs implicated in the 2009 scandal involving the questionable use of taxpayers’ money.
Packed full of references to the exposed parties, Colin Swash and Dan Patterson’s ingenious script makes quips at everything from Andy Coulson’s extensive phonebook to Chris Huhne’s driving ability. Not ones to miss an opportunity when it presents itself, there is even mention of a certain celebrity chef currently caught in the media spotlight during an incident involving icing sugar, a welcome addition that no doubt made it into the final edit somewhat later than the rest of the celebrity-based jibes.
Alongside Miller, Debbie Chazen stands out with a witty performance as the family’s outspoken Russian cleaner, claiming to be the voice of the silent majority and campaigning for single mothers to be sterilised. He is supported also by an amusing Nancy Carroll as Robert’s overtly posh computer illiterate wife/secretary and Diana Vickers as Burnley-born acupuncturist Holly, whose treatments are specifically tailored to the needs of Simon Shepherd’s masochistic MP.
With these entertaining performances, the TV writing duo’s hilarious script and Johnson’s pitch perfect direction, The Duck House is a farce of epic proportions that joins previous London hits This House and Yes, Prime Minister to prove that politics and comedy are a potent combination that is hard to beat.