Honk! The Musical

A cracking tale for all the family this Easter.
OFS Studio, Tue April 1st - Sat April 5th 2008

April 1, 2009
Preview
Honk! returns to the OFS April 7th
This Easter brings the revival of the popular Acting About production of Honk! Back by popular demand after last year's success, the local company are returning to the Old Fire Station to perform this great British musical which promises fun for all the family. Children of all ages are set to visit the farmyard created within the studio space, with the ever-lovable Ducklings played by Mark Williams and Hayley North.

However the sunny side of this tale disguises a dark twist as told by the actor Chris North who plays Ugly, a role that leads us through the giddy highs and lonely lows of growing up. This time around Amy Standish directs a local cast of trained singers and dancers. Tom Brady musically directs a compact orchestra to enthrall the audience with George Stiles and Antony Drew’s defiantly direct and often simultaneously light and shade compositions. Nicola Cleminson returns to share her professional technical skills with the hard working Production team that looks set to deliver a visual theatrical treat to remember.

April 4, 2008
‘Oh Quack, it’s the big one!’ Acting About Productions explodes onto the stage with a musical comedy that enthralls a packed audience (ranging from toddlers to grandfathers) from overture to finale. Outsized bulrushes and daisies flank the timber façade of a farmyard barn to create an idyllic countryside set. Lighting is designed with technical expertise by Nicola Cleminson, deftly capturing the many unlikely places Ugly stumbles upon after abandoning the safety of his familial pond. Julia North’s clever costume designs are quirky and convincing. Gavin Moore wears a flat cap and brown duster coat to play a Turkey who is understandably terrified of Christmas. The well-studied military uniform of Greylag, a goose, exaggerates the brilliantly observed pompous tones of Josh Mullet-Sadones' voice. A red elasticated band shows the hierarchy amongst the fowl, handed down from the top bird to Ugly who returns as a swan at the end. Chirpy sunshine-yellow outfits are worn by the cheeky ducklings (Tom Howard, Mark Williams), making their comic dance routine shine even brighter. The choreography sparkles throughout and the production number 'Warts and All' stops the show, it's so full of heart and soul. Leading up to this jazzy tap-dancing number is Gavin Moore’s portrayal of Bullfrog as a failed comic - a turn that demonstrates his serious acting abilities.

Christopher North in the lead role is as precise in his performance skills when freshly hatching out of the egg as he is when ‘paddling like the clappers’. He has a fine voice and accurately portrays Ugly's pain in being rejected by his flock through a number of impressive duets and solos. ‘Honk!’ concludes with the most transformative experience of life: falling in love. The beautiful swan Penny (the highly talented Hannah Nicholas) leaves her family so that she and Ugly can be together. The dynamics between the bird families make this an interesting community story. Ugly’s Daddy Drake (Luke Osborne) is always ‘ducking out of things’ and causing waves at the local watering hole. The ducklings stay out later than they should but ‘the owl didn’t give a hoot!’. Ugly’s Mother Ida holds the story together with torch songs delivered emotively by the superbly-voiced Amy Cooke-Hodgson, who deserves a glittering career in musical theatre. Deputy Stage Managers Millie Packer and Joe Wilcox ensure that the set conveys the changing seasons and also instigate a dramatic snowstorm. Sheer glittering gauze portrays the flow of the pond as glitzy fish swim by to the vibrant sound of a compact orchestra (conducted by David Allen). Christopher North deserves a round of applause for his great direction and casting - and for an inspired choice of musical, choc full of gags and colourful characters.

April 2, 2008
I am slightly amazed that I have not seen Honk! before. It is an award-winning comedy musical that has been performed locally on a number of previous occasions. It is a charming, funny, well-written piece – based on the tale of the Ugly Duckling - that offers great opportunities for lively performances.

Christopher Andrew North is clearly a man of the theatre. He has designed, directed, produced and starred in this production! He has brought together a number of talented young local performers and fashioned a likeable and entertaining show. The young gentleman sat next to me said, and I quote, ‘That was amazing!’ Whilst the show is very clearly suitable for children – there is plenty to keep parents and other adults amused.

Sound problems did rather plague the performance. There were clearly problems with the body microphones and the band, though playing well, was somewhat over-powering. I am sure that these were teething problems that will not mar the rest of the performances.

Amy Cooke-Hodgson gives a very warm performance as Ida the mother to Ugly. Her vocal is strong (even with the microphone problems) and her acting always convincing. The aforementioned Mr North, as Ugly, is clear and bright in his vocals and elicits much sympathy for his misunderstood character. Other stand out performers are Kate Wolstenholme and Laura Coxon as a very funny pair of domesticated critters and Gavin Moore in a range of roles – most notably the vaudevillian Frog. The whole ensemble work well together and there isn’t a weak link there.

A couple of the numbers could, perhaps, have done with a little more staging. The Goose number was a little too static and the cat duet would have benefited from some additional choreographic input and pizzazz. Having said that, the production is clear, the characterisation and movement well thought through and there is much fun to be had by all.

They have a very busy time coming up, with a great many performances. Why not add it to your springtime schedule?

HONK!

March 18, 2008
Honk! The preview...

After opening at the Watermill Theatre, Newbury (1993) and beating stiff competition to win the Olivier award for best musical (2000) this British musical comedy, based on the Hans Christian Anderson fairytale 'The Ugly Duckling', is paddling up to the Old Fire Station this Easter. Opening on 1st April, the show is written and composed by George Stiles and Anthony Drewe, boasting some cracking songs such as ‘A Poultry Tale’ and ‘Warts and All’. The theme of self-belief in the face of adversity is reinforced with positive numbers such as ‘Hold Your Head Up High’. Local Production Company ‘Acting About’ is currently hard at work to ensure a polished show and sitting in on their rehearsals it is refreshing to see so much young talent getting an opportunity to showcase their skills. Many of the cast are pursuing drama training and may be familiar to the audience from the Company’s previous Oxford production ‘A Midsummer Night’s Dream’.

This story takes place in a ‘backwater of England’ where parents Drake and Ida (Amy Cooke-Hodgson) await the hatching of their new brood. Amongst the ducklings (Mark Williams, Hannah Nicholas) who admirably keep ‘paddling like the clappers’ is one very ugly chick who keeps honking. Ugly (Christopher North) later turns out to be one heck of a good swimmer thanks to the encouragement of mum Ida. Teased by the other farmyard animals such as Tom Cat who tries to lure Ugly back to the Kitty Kat Snack Shack for ‘lunch’. Ugly becomes disorientated after making a narrow escape. It is Greylag, a pompous military goose, who rescues Ugly from a duck shoot on marshland. Meanwhile, Ida is searching frantically for her lost duckling. Raging blizzards set in and  tension rises - will she find Ugly in time?

Director Christopher North has cast local performers to bring out the essence and energy of these fabulous on-stage characters. In rehearsal many of the young cast are learning new skills and show great commitment to their career in Musical Theatre. This is one Easter treat that has no calories and can be enjoyed by all ages. Fun merchandise to be sold during the performance includes farm animal themed masks and a colouring competition is afoot. The schedule offers a selection of times and dates to suit, with matinees and early shows as well as evening performances.

Do paddle along to either the Old Fire Station or New Theatre box office for further details. The show runs from Tuesday 1st to Saturday 5th April, a week for Spring to have sprung and one huge egg to crack open.
Honk is a wonderful piece of British theatre which is currently showing at the Old Fire Station until Saturday. After seeing last year's production I was blown away with the improvements that have been made to the show as a whole. It has more life, energy and there are some first rate performances by some of the leads. Hannah E Bloch shines as Ida, Ugly's mother. Her singing is superb, and the relationship between her and Ugly, played by Christopher North is beautiful and convincing. Other wonderful performances came from Chris Williams as Drake, Ugly's father, and Tom Capper as the evil cat! Great comic timing from both and a pleasure to watch. The singing as a whole was very tight and had great quality. All in all a fun show with something for all the family.
Honk! the musical is a lovely little piece of British musical theatre which has been timed for stage just perfectly with spring in the air however, I was slightly disapointed with this production after enjoying last year's show [which I saw twice].
There were definitely some improvements with more character interaction and a general better vocal sound, but there was something missing. The energy and pace were lacking and some of the acting from the leads needed better direction [lines were flat and lacking motivation - I wasnt convinced of any connection between Ida and her son].
That said the actors who played Drake and the cat were highly engaging and went the extra mile to be bigger than life. The band sounded much more together although did drown out the singing on more than one occasion. The frog scene, just like last year, stole the show for timing, comedy and visual satisfaction - well done.
The set, although in some ways imaginative and framing the action nicely, was a little bit clumsy cutting almost half of the top of the stage off with a giant black sheet and set against the bottom half of plain white doors - a diffifult thing to light properly and not visually that stimulating for the audience to look at.

All in all, definitely a fun show to take the kids to this Easter, but don't expect to be blown away.
What a delightful production! It took a little while for the cast to warm up but after they had relaxed and the audience had started to feel involved it really was a success.

Initially we meet expectant parents Ida (Hannah Bloch) and Drake (Chris Williams) and their various feathered friends who all live in the same small lake and so the background to the story is set. Even at this point I was impressed with the creativity of the costumes –some different twists that worked very well! After successfully hatching 3 splendid little ducklings (played to absolute perfection) there is just the largest egg left to hatch….

Ida is alone with the egg when it starts to crack and out emerges her ‘ugly’ duckling, played by Christopher North. He portrays the part brilliantly - a gangly, awkward, different bird. The first duet between Mother and son when she is teaching him to swim is beautiful, even though he looks so different, her mother’s love is unconditional and there is genuine feeling behind her acceptance of him. When her other ducklings return with their father and friends and they all ridicule the ugly duckling, there is a very good performance of a song illustrating the confusion of Ugly at being teased because of his image, and the prejudices of the family at finding themselves with a son and brother who does not conform to the normal image.

We watch Ugly, accompanied only by his loneliness, fall prey to the evil clutches of the Cat (Tom Crapper) and almost become lunch – a very funny song accompanies this!! We then follow poor Ugly, who manages to get lost, on a journey of self discovery and memorable moments including bumping into some military styled geese (this was absolutely brilliant!!), frogs and after having learnt a lot, and then matured into a swan, having an eventual reunion with his family.

It is described as a musical comedy, and it really fulfils this description, the music, the emotions and the acting are all in tune and it is a very enjoyable performance. A large part of the success of the play seems to be the element of fun that the cast bring to their parts and the chemistry they have together on stage. It really brought the characters and the production to life.

A perfectly heart-warming and Easter suited performance!
What a fun show! I saw Honk! on the Friday night and found it to be a well-executed and cheery little musical. Special mention has to go to Amy Cooke-Hodgson for a truly wonderful performance of Ida: she took a little time to warm up (which is not to say that she didn’t outshine the rest of the cast from the very beginning, simply that by the end of Act 1 she was beyond professional standard) but her singing was divine, and she played the part of the worried mother incredibly convincingly.

Maureen the Moorhen (apologies for not using real names – no programme!) also had a lovely voice, despite a minor tuning hiccup at one point, and Christopher North made a super Ugly - looking wonderfully lost and alone throughout. The cat was also very well acted, and did some very nice speech-song. The dancing was well choreographed – I particularly enjoyed the frog number (Someone’s gonna love ya).

A few minor gripes: the blocking of the snow scene (with all the actors singing off stage, the band were massively overpowering); the odd bit of harmony in the choruses (the lone top soprano had a few “Kate Bush” moments where it seemed she didn’t know what she was doing) and one song where the singers were so unbalanced I can only presume one had not turned her microphone on. Overall the leads were of a very high standard, and the chorus supported them well. I get the impression that had this show had another week to prepare it would have been a real show-stopper, but even this week it is a gorgeous heart-warming musical that I’m now telling everyone to see on the last day!
I have just been to the opening night of Honk!. Wow. I was very impressed. It was hilariously funny and family friendly at the same time with both kids and adults in the audience being truly intrigued from start to finish.
ActingAbout have pulled all the stops out for this production. The venue has adapted to fit the musical well - The set is stunning and breathes so much life into the show. The lake / frog singing / dancing numbers are very well choreographed and very entertaining. Special mention should be given to the Turkey / Frog and Greylag for their comedy timing.
The quality of singing was high, the costumes and overall feel to Honk! is fabulous and it's one of the most energetic and entertaining performances I have seen for a long time. I recommend it as viewing pleasure for young and old alike.
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