The Duck House review - December 2013

An uneven new production by Dan Patterson and Colin Swash

The Duck House is the latest resident at the ever changing Vaudeville Theatre. I have to say I was looking forward to the show as I am a big fan of Mock the Week and Have I Got News For you and it just so happens the show has been penned by Dan Patterson and Colin Swash (respective writers of the aforementioned shows.) With two trusted political satirists at the helm of this production, I suspected I was in safe hands. I was wrong.

For those that don’t know, The Duck House is a satirical take on the 2009 MP expenses scandal during which it was revealed that Sir Peter Viggers had claimed £1,645 of tax payers money as reimbursement for an extravagant “Floating Duck Island” in his equally extravagant pond. The show presents fictional Labour MP, Robert Houston as he battles the expenses scandal on the eve of switching to the Tory party. As is the situation in many political farces, chaos ensues as a leading Tory MP, Sir Norman Cavandish, arrives to check Houston is squeaky clean.

Act 1 was funny in places, rather predictable so, but a generally recognised recipe for comedy “success.” Ben Miller’s Houston is conveyed smoothly as he and Debbie Chazen, who plays the family’s migrant housekeeper, Ludmiller, work together to provide the majority of the comedy in the first half. I have to say that, as a whole, I enjoyed the first half; it was likable and a believable enough situation to encourage a connection with the cast. Act 2 however…

If I thought the First Act was at times trying to force feed me “comedy,” Act 2 was on a whole different level. It was like a farce on E, or so I would imagine. I am all up for ridiculousness in the theatre, but the key to pulling off something exceptionally wacky is by the cast truly believing in their actions and sadly this was often not the situation. Poor Diana Vickers, who played the Northern temptress Holly, had to spank a man twice her age, who of course was dressed in an oversized nappy, whilst smearing him with Camembert. She looked terrified. The audience felt awkward.

After being relatively impressed with their performance in the first half of the evening, I was sad to find  Nancy Carroll and Simon Shepherd had digressed along with the plot in Act 2. I kind of wish I’d left at the interval.

My rating for the show is based entirely on Act 1, which generally had the ingredients for an enjoyable night. If Patterson and Swash wished to rewrite Act 2 to make it less inaccessibly ridiculous, then they could be on to a winner. As it stands, I think their stage debut may be short lived. Oh and a question to director Terry Johnson: what were you thinking?!

9 December 2013, Vaudeville Theatre