Date 19th June 2015
Society New Mills Amateur Operatic & Dramatic Society
Venue New Mills Arts Theatre
Type of Production Musical
Director Louise Coker
Musical Director Debbie Woodruff
Choreographer Angie Ledwich-Draper


Author: Kevin Proctor

This musical often gets dismissed due to misguided preconceptions.  Although ‘Honk!’ is a family friendly musical (as the majority of them are), the contents of the show are certainly aimed to entertain the adults more than the kiddies with its cunningly phrased book and lyrics which make you laugh out loud before it strikes and gives the heart a sturdy tug. The score is one of Stiles and Drewe’s (Just So, Mary Poppins and Betty Blue Eyes) most accomplished. Lyrically it has a deceptive simplicity which allows for layers of interpretation, a dream for any creative actor and experimental director.

Interestingly, which didn’t come as much of a surprise to me to discover, the producers of the hit animation ‘Chicken Run’ (of Wallace & Gromit and Creature Comforts fame) saw a production of ‘Honk!’ during the early stages of the films process. This book undoubtedly supplied the team with a plethora of inspiration.

Mother of the nest - Ida, played by Collette Desborough, refuses to desert her son, but also instinctively knows when the time has come to let him go. "He's my Son and I love him" hung in the air like a challenge to anyone who disputes her maternal rights. Vocally, this score presented a few challenges for her but she found the pathos and heart within this gorgeous character and hit us with a desirable spirit.

The geese, portrayed as an army squadron are a delight, all under the stiff-upper-lip leadership of the bossy and bumbling wing commander Graylag, played to perfection by Peter Bowler. The last few bars of ‘Wild Goose Chase’ earned the company a deserved round of applause but the big guns of company numbers were kept under wraps for act two!

The unlikely pairing of a cat and a chicken as housemates (with an ‘arrangement’), were performed with show-stealing verve by Kim Riley-Cooper & Catheryn Bowler as Quennie and Lowbutt in what is always a very comical and indulging scene.

The structure of the book follows a similar pattern to 'The Jungle Book' where the central character is on a journey and meets a selection of iconic individuals or groups along the way, some of whom only stay with us for one scene.

One character which didn’t translate particularly well for me was Maureen who was presented very ‘glam’ which clashed with the Hilda Ogden influenced dialogue, missing the fun in this quirky little role.

I appreciated the simple and minimal set which wasn’t over fussy or unnecessary. The lighting design was well thought out and helped contribute to an overall high quality ‘look’ for the production.

Dominic Dunne took the role of Ugly. Each time I see Dominic he continues to improve in some way. Physically he carried the part well and his voice suited the score allowing him to showcase his strengths. A creditable interpretation.

The evil cat was offered by Shaun Penton who vocally suited the part delivering his numbers with ease, however, charisma and energy levels were less bountiful for this gift of a role. I felt it was underplayed too much which seemed to fade the sinister and aloof qualities of the role which are important, also missing opportunities to incorporate feline physicality into his movement.

It was a great shame that some solo players used head mics and others didn’t as it made the overall sound balance uneven, some lines being missed entirely.

Penny, who we meet quite late on in the show managed to expose her skills as an all-rounder in a very short space of time. A very enjoyable performance by Samantha Draper who equally sung, danced and acted with vigour and skill.

Incorporating a chorus into a show which isn’t written for one can at times create some unnatural shoe horning, I felt there was more opportunity for the ensemble to sing more to enhance the level of sound to (what should be) full company numbers. Harmonies in “The Blizzard” were nicely balanced as was “The Elegy”, the small ensemble coped well with some tricky harmony work.
The musicians were unfortunately placed back stage and the sound was channelled through to the auditorium. This did challenge the overall feel of the show as the sound was prevented from naturally carrying, the punch and excitement of live musicians was slightly diluted as a result.

Director, Louise Coker, understood this shows humour which was desirably exposed. This is not an easy production for a first time director as actors playing animals is not the norm for most and there is a fine line between performing as a human with the characteristics of an animal and presenting an animal with human characteristics – both resulting in entirely different outcomes. A mistake with shows like this is if cast members think they need to believe they’re an animal - they shouldn’t! …That’d never work in this context, adopting a few character traits of their animal is all that is required, it’s far less technical than it may appear.

Angie Ledwich-Draper’s Choreography had some strong and shining moments, however, I’d say that the show could have afforded more of it. “Now I’ve Seen You” started with a gorgeous ballet solo by Samantha (as Penny) but then as the song built we were left with dead space. “Wild Goose Chase” started a bit static too, some military inspired formations would have enhanced the first half of the number. The underwater sequence was lovely (one of my favourite moments in the show) with the tumbling and full company involvement. But, the penultimate moment was undeniably “Warts N All” which completely stole the show, superbly done! Ian Draper as Bull Frog was excellent, Ian carried this scene terrifically and contributed impressively to the climax of the production.

Overall this was a virtuous presentation of a favourite, New Mills AODS are building on their quality year on year which is highly encouraging and only makes me look forward to my visits. Many thanks!