Music by George Stiles, Book and Lyrics by Anthony Drewe
Produced by Royal & Derngate
Royal & Derngate, Northampton

Production photo

One of the delights about Royal & Derngate, Northampton, is the ability to stage two different styles of panto at Christmas. The larger Derngate hosts the more expensive, 'celebrity' laden offering, whilst in the Royal one can experience a more traditional Theatrical Christmas performance.

The excellent One Hundred and One Dalmatians in 2007 was followed by the equally brilliant Wizard of Oz last year. This year, we are presented with Honk! the 'Ugly Ducking Musical', based on the Hans Christian Anderson classic. Unfortunately, Honk! never really reaches the high standards set in previous years.

It is difficult to really pick out the reason for this. Perhaps it is the choice of production. There is nothing particularly Christmassy about this story, though one can forgive this if there is a panto feel about the production. However, unlike the fore-mentioned productions this sorely lacked a pantomime style. This was a musical which could have been performed at any time of the year.

There were other strange choices in the production. The use of regional accents for nearly every character was confusing and didn't work. Costumes were mixed and misguided - the children we were with struggled to work out who was who.

In fact the overall design was disappointing. The set was cartoonlike, an almost stereotypical 'children's theatre' aesthetic. The staging lacked functionality and seemed to be lacking in imagination.

Despite my obvious distaste for the production there were some positives. The cast worked hard to multirole their way around the characters - it was a surprise to see only eight performers taking their bow. David McGranaghan deserves a mention for playing an excellent devilish but likeable Cat. The choreography was tight and full of energy and the orchestra accompaniment worked well.

However, my overall response to Honk! is not a favourable one and I am disappointed to have to end without a fully endorsed recommendation. It's a great shame that the Royal's excellent panto tradition has suffered a hiccup in 2009.

"Honk!" plays until Sunday 3rd January 2010

Reviewer: John Johnson

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