Theatre Review: The Ugly Duckling @ Tobacco Factory Theatres
by Danni Gillespie

As soon as you walk through the large doors of the Tobacco Factory Theatres, you can immediately tell this will be a little production to remember. Leaves were hanging from the rafters, a piano sitting patiently to be played, and the unadulterated excitement visible on each child’s face as they eagerly waited for The Ugly Duckling to begin. The sugary sweet message of the story warmed all hearts in the room and the physical comedy of the four actors made for a true delight. Mother Duck (Heather Williams), Duckie (Emily May Smith) and every other character (Heidi Niemi) accompanied by live music (Brian Hargreaves) told the audience a magical tale of love and acceptance.

Four duvet-bundles of people shuffled onto the stage, complaining about various frozen body parts, asking Brian (Hargreaves) to play them some music to warm them up. Brian shed his duvet and promptly played a Jazz-y upbeat number on the saxophone. The three unwrapped and jumped around, introducing all the animals on the barn yard, much to the amusement of children and parents alike. Mother Duck appears, dressed in a layered petticoat and bright yellow hat, preparing her nest and showing the audience her eggs with unabashed pride (although one she admitted was rather large and she thought she would remember laying that one…). With a wonderful and lively musical accompaniment, we were introduced to six rubber ducks and one decidedly scruffy Duckie.

Duckie hit the stage with a “HONK!” and a huge roar of laughter from small voices filled the theatre; every child was delighted with the arrival of the clumsy Duckie.

Mother Duck asks Duckie to help her tidy the nest, exploding into a hilariously slapstick scene which presented the best bits of classic pantomime. Giggles of “there he is!” and “he’s behind you!!” accompanied a clowning scene of tidying the nest and unpacking everything. Mean farm animals mock Duckie’s scruffy feathers and big feet, whilst Mother Duck offers heart-warming, unconditional love, instilling the beautiful and soulful message from the onset of the performance.

Unfortunately, sometimes even unconditional love cannot stop a little scruffy Duckie from running away from mean and mocking rubber ducks. We follow Duckie’s journey through scary marshes and frozen lakes in a search for where he belongs. On this quest, Duckie meets Granny who explains that pulling funny faces is her specialty (indeed, it is). With plenty of glorious slapstick scenes, there was never a dull moment. One of the highlights was watching Granny running around after Duckie, with the young viewers yelling for Duckie to “run, run, run!”, until the tables are turned and Duckie locks her in the shed. 

Finally, Mother Duck finds her little Duckie, transformed into a glorious swan. Mother Duck tells her Duckie that she’s loved him all along, no matter what he might look like on the outside. Brilliant panto laughs, a small but brilliant cast and a tale with a solid gold centre of heart-warming, feel-good joy. Silly, loud and heart-warming, this is the perfect Christmas tale for little ones.

The Ugly Duckling runs until January 14, 2018. Book tickets here. 

All photos by Mark Dawson. 

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