Reviewed by Daniel Janks: actor, creative director, writer, cynic, father, husband. He was born in 1977 and has still not died. He loves many things, chief among which are his mythic wife and odd girl-child. Visit his website.
Duck for President is a great piece of theatre. It really is. In fact, it’s some of the best theatre I’ve seen in quite a long time.
I know, this is a bold statement for a National Children’s Theatre production, and no, I’m not suggesting that you take your husband/wife/boy-girl-friend/non-binary partner to see Duck for President for the 25th anniversary of the first time you held hands during a full moon when it was raining and an owl hooted.
Remarkable Childrens Theatre
But I am suggesting that it’s become all too rare to see a production created, rehearsed and performed with this much attention to detail, talent and passion. It’s all too rare to see this much care taken in creating theatre in Johannesburg these days.
Duck for President is many things. It’s funny, smart, educational, fun, and engaging from start to finish. The cast is exceptional, the characters delightful, and the script whimsical and cheeky.
For me the show is stolen by Ashleigh Butcher and Carmen Tromp whose Hen and Cow rule the stage. Butcher’s Hen is infatuated with Farmer Brown (awkward, I know) and her innocence and naivete are brilliantly counterpoised with her scattered moments of irony and sarcasm. Tromp’s Cow is sassy and sardonic but brings an earthy and electric ‘sensuality’ to the no-nonsense bovine.
They aren’t the only excellent performances. Jay Hlatshwayo’s Duck is charming and cheerful, Dolly Louw’s Pig is conniving and fun, Daniel Geddes’ Farmer Brown a great anchor, and Rene Setlhako’s Lamb a wonderful support.
Geddes just happens to be the show’s musical director (and provides live accompaniment on the fake piano). And the musical direction is brilliant, as is the choreography by Phillida Le Roux. The show’s musical numbers are simply wonderful and have more big-show pizazz than most big-show shows have. The set by Stan Knight, the costumes by Sarah Roberts, and the lighting by Jane Gosnell all combine to create a show that is bigger than its miniscule stage, fuller than its six-person cast, and grander than any piece of children’s theatre has any business being.
Ultimately, then, we have to lay all this gushy, fawning praise at the feet of director Matthew Counihan. As good as the many parts of a piece of theatre may be, all too often we find them being far less than the sum of their parts. Not here. Not under the guidance of Counihan. He has woven together the myriad stands of Duck for President with subtle aplomb.
The play knows what it is. It embraces what it’s supposed to be. And it excels in almost all regards. I’m not a standing ovationer as most South African audience members seem to be. How often have we seen mediocre and downright poor pieces elicit jack-in-the-box ovations? Too often, in my not very humble opinion. But I stood up and applauded my heart out when the bows were taken, and the proverbial curtain dropped.
Duck for President is on at the National Children’s Theatre in Parktown until April 7th an absolute no brainer for you and your kids to check out these holidays.
Click here to book your tickets now