Northumberland Theatre Company
Whitburn Parish Hall
18th Dec 2015
Cast: Eleanor Dennison, Laura Jayne Ayres, Louis Roberts, Natalie Simone and Robert Pegge.
Last night in a little parish hall in Whitburn a bit of magic happened!
Three ducklings were born. Two beauties - yellow and fluffy with impressive quacks (this is important, a duckling needs a good quack!). The other not so yellow. Not so fluffy, and not such a beauty, with no quack at all. She was given a beautiful name in the hope that she would grow into it. Desdemona Duckling.
Her brother and sister and the other farm fowl were beautiful to look at and they made fun of Desdemona. They didn't want to be seen with her. They thought she was a Turkey. But Desdemona was beautiful inside and she does indeed grow into her name.
Now obviously they were not real ducklings. They were actors with the Northumberland Theatre Company. A small touring company, they take their shows out on the road to places that don't have easy access to theatre. They stage plays in village halls and community centres, transforming a room into a theatre for a night (and creating that bit of magic I mentioned earlier).
The tale of The Ugly Duckling is charming and funny - laugh out loud funny. It's billed as a pantomime and it does have some of the key traits of panto, eggsellent bad jokes, baddies, magical moments and audience participation. but it is a much gentler, subtler production - not so in your face as a traditional panto.
Just five actors play all the parts, with nifty costume changes they are transformed from roosters to foxes to ravens, from ducklings to hens to frogs. These are five very versatile and talented actors and they made the changes look deceptively easy - but it's not everyone who can keep kids and adults engaged, intrigued and believing in the characters in front of them. Louis Roberts moves seamlessly with little more than the shake of a tale feather from Mr Rooster with his lazy southern drawl, to the cheeky cockney Mr Fox, to mysterious Kha the Raven with his lilting Scottish accent. Each of his characters connected with the audience, no matter what their age - even garnering sympathy from one of the children when Doris Duck (Eleanor Dennison) defends her ducklings by giving him a mighty whack with an oar (that's animal cruelty, that is!)
This is a charming adaptation of Hans Christian Andersen's tale. A story with a moral and a strong message about the nature of beauty, friendship, courage and self-worth but it is told with good humour and not a hint of preachiness. The audience was mostly adults with a scattering of children and everyone enjoyed the performance from the youngest to the oldest.
The audience were all very local Whitburn people and we were obviously incomers but were made to feel perfectly welcome and included. All in all a lovely experience.
The Ugly Duckling tour continues for some time so if it is coming to a Hall near you make sure you get along to it - accompanying small child entirely optional! It's an hour and a half well spent and I guarantee you will come away feeling warm and fuzzy!
More info about tour dates and venues at Northumberland Theatre Company . The tour runs until end of January.