The LOST Theatre in Stockwell is currently playing host to a new production of Honk!, a family musical based on Hans Christian Andersen’s tale of the Ugly Duckling, written by George Stiles and Anthony Drewe, who wrote the songs for West End musical Betty Blue Eyes, which closed last weekend.
Eighteen years after it first hatched at the Watermill theatre as The Ugly Duckling, it’s readily apparent why Stiles and Drewe so easily slotted into the Disney style of musical with their extra songs for Mary Poppins: Honk! is a prototype Disney animation as if it were played out on stage rather than storyboarded. With a bit of polish, one could easily see the story on the silver screen as a classic, line-drawn animation with songs that infect the head as well as progressing the story. And it’s easily better than The Princess and the Frog, the House of Mouse’s recent attempt to revive the genre.
The cast are, for the most part, excellent, able to represent a range of farmyard animals with the slightest of mannerisms and assisted by some clever wardrobe work. I did feel that the tomcat, which is supposed to be the musical’s main villain, never quite managed the level of menace that the role needed.
What lets the whole production down is the sound. In a space which clearly was never designed for musical theatre, placing a five-piece band above the performers’ heads means that, even with amplification, the cast were perpetually fighting to be heard – a shame, as one of Honk!’s strongest aspects is Anthony Drewe’s carefully applied wordplay in both book and lyrics. What amplification there was tended to introduce echo rather than clarity.
As a reminder of where Stiles and Drewe have been, it’s a more than worthwhile visit. For an indication of where they are going, Sunday October 9 sees a concert performance of their long-gestating new musical Soho Cinders at the Queen’s Theatre, in aid of Teenage Cancer Trust.