JEFF CARPENTER honks for great music and tech, but gags on weaker performances than we’ve come to expect.

ADC Honk Jeff Carpenter Musical musical theatre ugly duckling

ADC Theatre, 26th-30th April, 7.30pm, £10-£12

Directed by Sarah Phelps


This musical is only let down by the acting. It’s fantastic in every other way: the music, costume, lights, set, direction and a fabulous script kept me gripped and grinning all the way through.

The musical is a fantastically cheesy and family-friendly telling of the Hans Christian Andersen fairytale, The Ugly Duckling, where (as you know), an ugly duckling is hatched, ridiculed, runs away, and is rediscovered as a beautiful swan.

I always like to think the moral of this story as being something like ‘tomorrow belongs to the nerds’ (picture Bill Gates as a freshman) but the moral of HONK! is, obviously:

Just believe in yourself
Don’t be left on the shelf
Feeling that all hope is dead and gone
And you may find in your own way –
You’re a swan!

It’s the most perfectly cheesy thing I could imagine. ‘Just believe in yourself!’ Genius. Essentially, the musical hijacks the original moral of ‘just bide your time and you’ll see, they’ll all pay’ to the much more polite ‘it doesn’t matter what you look like, or how you act! Everyone is different, that’s the best thing!’ Of course this moral doesn’t really make sense with the original plot but WHO CARES BECAUSE IT IS MUSICAL THEATRE.

The best thing about this production is the band and the music they play. The gorgeous spangly orchestration of occasional glockenspiel and piano runs, the adventurous harmony and the infectious energy of the up-beat numbers is all there.

Musical Director Andrew Taylor deserves huge praise for both his own masterful piano and synth playing throughout and his overall brilliant direction of the band. Together with sensational musicians and the absolute best sound tech I’ve ever heard in Cambridge theatre, the band was crystal clear and perfectly mixed, the singers’ mics also flawlessly engineered throughout. Not only does this never normally happen, it actually made this production.

As for the visuals – the costumes were absolutely astonishing. Short of this year’s Footlights Panto, I’ve never seen so many utterly brilliant costumes on the ADC stage. They looked nearly all handmade for this production, and those which were bought were still wildly creative and a testament to the overall design of the show.

The lighting was also unbelievably good and again, almost scarily, the techies were spot on every cue. It contributed a huge amount to the visual excitement, emotion, and scenery. Overall, it’s safe to say that we witnessed some extraordinary imagination from the creative and technical team.

So why the three stars? Well as I said, the acting really brought it down. While the production values exceeded almost everything else I’ve seen in Cambridge, the standard of acting was definitely below average, across the board.

The songs, being for the most part relatively easy, were mostly sung in tune, and some of the duets were a real treat, but you couldn’t say anybody had a really ‘good voice’ like we students have grown to expect in our musical theatre.

So, basically, I was treated to the exact opposite of what I’d expect from a student musical… astonishing tech, band and design, and shoddy everything else. For the first time in my life I felt genuinely quite sorry for all those responsible for the former, who were frankly let down by the actors. Strange turn of events for me.

Anyway, let me put it this way: if you like cheesy, family-friendly musicals, brilliant music and visual indulgence then HONK! is well worth the ticket price and I hope it’ll make you smile as much as I did. But if you’re looking for a satisfying performance, you’ll have to wait for the students to get back in the game.