Skip to content

The Duck House

Last week, Malvern Theatres was showing a new play, The Duck House, starring Ben Miller, prior to it transferring to the West End. I wasn’t originally planning on going to see it – it’s a farce, and I don’t normally bother with those. Christopher really wasn’t at all keen on farces, finding them very silly, so I’ve seen very few and haven’t really developed a taste for the genre. But on Wednesday, as I was walking over to the canteen at work to get some lunch, I got talking to a colleague of mine who had seen the play the night before and loved it. He said it was a bit like “Yes Minister“, and very funny. So I thought I’d see if there were any seats available for the Saturday matinée.

I called in at the theatre on my way home from Waitrose on Thursday afternoon and was in luck – just! I think I got the penultimate ticket for the show – on the very back row of the circle. I normally like sitting in the middle of the stalls, rather than upstairs, but fortunately Malvern is not a huge theatre, and the view is still reasonable even from right at the very back.

The play was basically about the MPs expenses scandal. It was set in May 2009, at the tail end of Gordon Brown’s government. Robert Houston is a Labour MP who, together with his wife, has been living it up at the taxpayer’s expense for years. He loves the expenses-funded lifestyle that being an MP gives him, and appears to have no political convictions whatsoever. So, seeing the writing on the wall for Labour, he is about to cross the floor of the House, and become a Conservative, with the promise of a plum ministerial job once the Tories get into power. Cue lots of jokes about current politicians -such as how Nick Clegg would never “sell out”, and how Chris Huhne is a boring pair of safe hands with an absolutely devoted wife. Houston is about to be interviewed by a Tory grandee, to make sure there are no skeletons in his closet, before the press conference is held to announce his defection.

Of course, this being a farce, the skeletons come tumbling out of the closet thick and fast. In fact, the set was somewhat shoddily built, and I think a pile of expenses-bought hanging baskets came tumbling out of a badly-built cupboard more often than was in the script! I can see why Chris wasn’t keen on farces – they are very formulaic, and this one had the requisite number of mistaken identities, and people caught in their underpants or with their trousers down. The jokes were pretty heavily telegraphed – so that for example when a wardrobe was placed at the bottom of the stairs, I just knew that the Tory grandee would be caught hiding in it in his underpants, a good half an hour before the event actually took place! The duck house would clearly have a duck in it which was guaranteed to quack at the most inopportune moment.  And I was just waiting for the line “Houston, we have a problem”.

Nevertheless, despite being formulaic and very, very silly, it was laugh-out-loud funny. The audience thoroughly enjoyed themselves, and the couples on either side of me were almost crying with laughter at some points. I haven’t been converted to farces in general, but this was very rude indeed about the venality of politicians, and as such was distinctly enjoyable.