The Duck House

1/4
© Tristram Kenton

Nancy Carroll (Felicity Houston) and Ben Miller (Robert Houston MP)

2/4
© Tristram Kenton
3/4
© Tristram Kenton
4/4
© Tristram Kenton

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

Average User Rating

3.4 / 5

Rating Breakdown

  • 5 star:3
  • 4 star:1
  • 3 star:1
  • 2 star:0
  • 1 star:2
LiveReviews|8
1 person listening
Laila

It was a very good show. Very well performed. I think theactors were superb, and very funny.

claire m

Was as I expected, laughed a fair bit and got what I paid for. Wasn't a challenge or too high brow. A pleasant night out. Think some other reviewers were expecting 'The thick of it' or something similar, but it was funny and my husband and I enjoyed it.

Andy D

I think the original reviewer largely missed the point about this production. It is a farce, full of lewd, blunt, exaggerated, ridiculous behaviour and caricature. It isn't trying to be "In the Thick of It" or anything similarly clever that will say something new about politics. It is just a really achingly funny concoction of human failings writ large. I watched it for what it is and it is deeply funny on that level, a great chance to just laugh at the insanity/ inanity of our self-deluded world.

Thomas Lange

An excellent show ... a high energy comedy, with brilliant performances by the cast and plenty of laughter throughout. Great fun!! Comes highly recommended!!!

Russell

I really loved this, it was great fun. I'm not big on politics, however i didn't need to be to enjoy this to the full. It was high energy, fast paced stuff, delivered brilliantly by the cast. I think the best thing to go by was the audience reaction, and last night the building was filled with laughter from start to finish. I genuinely feared for the man next to me's health he was laughing so hard. Highly recommended.

Peter H

In 50 years of theatregoing I can honestly say this is the worst thing I have ever seen on stage. Banal, puerile, obvious, pointlessly unfunnily vulgar...and I'm being gentle here. The script is just a recap of 10th rate TV comedy show ad libs, the acting and direction is frantic and artificial. I felt sorry for the poor actors who worked hard. Amazingly the audience laughed like drains.

David

Light hearted though somewhat predictable and overly slapstick. That said, despite predictability I did laugh and it was never billed to be anything other than what it was. Not really on the same level as an Avenue Q but don't regret going...

Stuart M

Truely terrible. While one expects a farce to be frentic this is overly so with jokes telegraphed so far in advance that you are able to write them in your head, edit, improve and do them again before they delivered on stage. Left at the interval, the first time in 30 years of theatre going I have felt unable to stay. On the plus side, there is much fun to be had watching Simon Shepherd as he remembers his lines at a speed just a little behind that which he is required to deliver them...