Like the play equivalent of ale-swilling UKIP clown Nigel Farage, this new farce about the 2009 parliamentary expenses scandal is so silly it’s almost difficult to sustain an objection.
If you thought such comedy tropes as dropped trousers, ‘hilarious’ foreigners and comely lasses in French maid’s outfits went out with the golliwog… then you’d be sort of right. It’s probably ‘The Duck House’s saving grace that all its most eyeball-rolling stuff feels like a wry homage to the ripe comedies of the 1970s rather than an active sharing of their values. I didn’t laugh a lot, but I didn’t feel bad about laughing.
In many ways writers Colin Swash and Dan Patterson are rather better at homage than satire. Veterans of ‘Have I Got News for You’, ‘Mock the Week’ and more, the political stuff is essentially a series of groan-inducing quips that’d work splendidly on a panel show but not so well when trying to tell a story.
It’s fortunate, then, that they have a game cast. Ben Miller’s slimy MP protagonist Robert Houston is little more than a half-arsed amalgam of every shifty politician, ever, but the comedian plays him with such full tilt hysteria and man-on-death-row desperation that it’s impossible not to warm to the bastard as he sinks into a mire of incriminating receipts.
National Theatre superstar Nancy Carroll is typically magnificent as Houston’s unflappably self-absorbed wife. Simon Shepherd essentially reprises his malign Tory overlord character from ‘Posh’ to reliable effect. And pop star Diana Vickers does her best to inject a robust note into the totty role.
But the script is unforgivably weak, and the cast and director Terry Johnson simply don’t have enough to work with – characters suddenly accelerate from calm to hysterical, because the script offers nothing in between.
And it’s simply not a very astute political comedy: there are some great one-liners, and it’s wonderful the writers find time to remind us of the dodgy claims filed by the likes of Cameron and Gove, but at the end of the day it has nothing more to say about the scandal beyond ‘MPs are all self-serving shits’. Which may be the case, but there’s a cleverer way of putting it, surely.
By Andrzej Lukowski