Former Little Angel artistic director Christopher Leith chose The Ugly Duckling as his first production in 1993. Now, four revivals and almost 20 years later, it serves as a reminder of the enduring power of a classic story well told.
A scene from The Ugly Duckling at Little Angel Theatre, London
The tale of a cygnet living among ducklings who is bullied for his difference is a simple one, and this is among the theatre’s most simple shows: just two puppeteers, a large painted sphere sitting on an artist’s easel that serves as various landscapes, and a handful of exquisitely lifelike puppets by Lyndie Wright and Gerry Spiller. But performers Mandy Travis and Jonathan Storey build a very characterful supporting cast that includes an arrogant gobble-gobble turkey, a blokey bug-eyed frog and a well-spoken friendly blackbird. Storey’s voice in particular shows an impressive range as he warbles away as Mrs Waddleduck, a suspicious neighbour who advises Mother Duck to leave her ‘turkey’ behind.
Perhaps it’s inevitable, but the production seems to have most fun when our hero is being denounced as aesthetically challenged. After the unfortunate creature had been told “you’re ugly” in a variety of comic regional accents, by a variety of fowl observers, one child couldn’t help jumping up and joining in with an enthusiastic: “He is ugly!”
Nevertheless, this production keeps close to the spirit of Hans Christian Anderson, and our moral about personal transformation awaits in a more thoughtful, if less frenetic, second half.