Honk! at the Union Theatre
With Half a Sixpence transferred to the West End and The Wind in the Willows premiering this summer, musical writers George Stiles and Anthony Drewe are having an exciting and busy year. 2017 also marks the anniversary of Honk!, the family friendly barnyard tale by the duo that officially opened in 1997 and won the Olivier Award for Best New Musical in 2000. Union Theatre celebrates the show by presenting a new production featuring a wonderful group of actor-musicians.
Based on Hans Christian Andersen’s The Ugly Duckling, the story invites reflection on what it means to be different. A little bird named Ugly looks nothing like his duckling siblings, leaving his parents shocked and confused. His mother tries to defend him as he is picked on by other farmyard animals, but one day he wanders off beyond her protective gaze. Although he encounters sinister characters, such as the sly and hungry Cat, he also begins to understand who he is and where he fits in the world.
The show starts off slow and initially fails to capture, but the great effort and commitment of the cast – a group of multi-talented actors, singers and musicians – eventually win the audience over. The enjoyable musical numbers, and the heart-warming tale itself, also ensure that the sloppy beginning is counteracted by an upbeat second half. By the end, Honk! is satisfying and at times even touching.
The core of the production’s success is the music. A trio of skilled musicians accompany the cast, who flaunt great talent themselves as they play various instruments. There is harmony in the exchanges between the two groups and the band provides a solid foundation for the performance, which sometimes falls behind.
Throughout the show there are small glitches and unpolished details breaking the flow and reminding the audience of the production’s limitations. Some costume and prop choices are also unconvincing (Ugly wearing hipster-style skinny jeans, or “swimming” on an office swivel chair, for example).
The overall impact, however, is ultimately favourable. Theatre lovers will appreciate the display of remarkable skills and the great passion that the group exhibits, while a younger audience will enjoy being taken on an entertaining adventure that is further supported by (timely) underlying messages about acceptance and embracing diversity.
Photo: Nick Rutter
Honk! is at the Union Theatre from 29th March until 22nd April 2017, for further information or to book visit here.