Duckie

Le Gateau Chocolat, Flick Ferdinando, Tommy Bradson
Weston Studio, Wales Millennium Centre
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The diversity-themed Performances For The Curious season at the Wales Millennium Centre reaches its conclusion with two shows from Britain’s favourite Anglo-Nigerian light baritone drag queen, Le Gateau Chocolat. His piece for adults, entitled Icons, is apparently a more conventionally drag-oriented cabaret extravaganza, with an autobiographical focus.

Duckie, while aimed at audiences aged 3 and upwards, a re-interpretation of The Ugly Duckling, also boasts a narrative whose themes seem to be drawn from writer-performer George Ikediashi’s life. This Hans Christian Andersen adaptation (created with collaborators Flick Ferdinando and Tommy Bradson), originally presented in 2016, is his first show for children, and has previously enjoyed runs in London and on the Edinburgh Fringe.

Duckie begins with a figure, drably clad aside from a yellow safety-helmet, forlornly wheeling a shopping-cart on-stage, and sitting down to read from an illuminated storybook. We learn, from the off-stage narrator, that the fable takes place in a world of talking animals and that the central character and his family of ducks work in the circus. The recorded soundtrack, heavily featuring themes from Tchaikovsky’s Swan Lake, sets up a tone which is simultaneously melancholic and celebratory.

The narrative involves the young Duckie struggling to find his place in this universe. He tries and fails to dance as part of his family’s troupe, but is too large and clumsy and burps instead of quacking (which inevitably went down well with the audience). He spends the rest of the day trying to fit in elsewhere—with the strongman lions, or the ball-balancing seals—but is rejected every time, whether through a lack of skills or his unorthodox appearance.

Fortunately, however—spoiler alert—just when it seems he doesn’t fit it anywhere, his fellow circus performers discover that he can sing.

The songs are largely repurposed pop, Hollywood and Broadway hits—“Land Of Pure Imagination”, “Somewhere Out There”, The Pussycat Dolls’ “Don’t’Cha”, not to mention “Flamingirls Just Wanna Have Fun”, and the vaguely predictable, if iconic final number. Ikediashi’s voice is pleasing and powerful and he is a warmly likeable presence.

Unlike during his performances for adults, Le Gateau Chocolat largely eschews his “drag” persona, other than his make-up and trademark eyelashes, unless imitating some of the more flamboyant animals. There are references to Duckie choosing to dance with male rather than female partners; more alarmingly, a category “A” swear-word comes worryingly close to making an appearance.

With a pre-recorded soundtrack and dialogue, one does miss the kind of jokey interaction which might have occurred with an on-stage narrator and musicians. The emotional climax of the show, however, in which Duckie is assailed by hostile off-stage voices, is a frighteningly intense moment.

Eventually, though, our hero emerges triumphant, finally able to be proud of his true colours, and make a virtue of that which marks him out as “different”—a defiantly positive message from a charming forty-minute show which largely seemed to keep younger (and older) audience-members both entertained and intrigued.

Reviewer: Othniel Smith