Expect a Quacking Good Show in City

icTeesside - The Journal, 30 June 2005

By David Whetstone

Twenty years ago Kenneth Branagh took Newcastle's Theatre Royal by storm with a rabble rousing performance of Shakespeare's 'Henry V'.

Yesterday he was back at the same venue - sharing the limelight with a duck called Daphne.

While agreeing this was not an eventuality he could have foreseen as a hotshot young actor with the RSC, he insisted it was "a great pleasure" to be directing a new show called 'Ducktastic'.

"Quack, quack," said Daphne bang on cue.

Billed as "a spectacular comedy", 'Ducktastic' will open at the Theatre Royal in September before transferring straight to London's West End. It could be the theatrical sensation of the year. It is certainly a coup for the North-East to have it opening in Newcastle.

Producer David Pugh, the man behind hit shows such as 'Art' and 'The Play What I Wrote', based on Morecambe and Wise, said he had always enjoyed enormous success in Newcastle.

But he had also chosen the city for the show's premiere because of the friendship he had struck up with Peter Sarah, the Theatre Royal's chief executive who died suddenly in April.

"We dedicate this production, both in Newcastle and in London, to Peter," he said.

Mr Pugh said the team behind 'The Play What I Wrote', including Branagh and writers and performers Hamish McColl and Sean Foley, had been looking for a new project.

"We went to seek inspiration in Las Vegas and went along to see every possible show that we could."

Inspiration struck in the many illusion shows, some wonderful and some terrible, but nearly all trying to replicate the success of Siegfried & Roy, the Las Vegas pair famous for their tricks with tigers.

Yesterday Hamish McColl said he played "a clapped out magician" called C.U. Sassoon who is desperate to return to the illusionists' premier league but has lost his animal licence and is limited to working with a single duck.

Undaunted, he hires an assistant called Roy (Sean Foley), who is actually a pet shop owner from Portsmouth, and together they set out to scale the showbusiness heights.

Mr Pugh said a top team was working on the show, including a magic consultant called Simon Drake. Already 750,000 has been invested by 85 people who smelled another hit.

The least experienced member of the team, of course, is Daphne. Eight weeks ago Daphne was in an egg in Essex. Now she is in showbusiness.

Animal trainer Dave Souser, from Florida, who also worked on the Harry Potter movies, said 45 Indian runner ducks were hatched to provide potential stars for the show.

Mr Souser, who also works with snakes and alligators, said: "We have to get the ducks used to everything on stage - the lights, the costumes and the guys they'll be working with." Mr Pugh said Daphne would have the principal dressing room at the Theatre Royal and in London.

"And I'm not joking - we're thinking of installing a pond."

On yesterday's evidence, Daphne is taking to showbusiness like a duck to water.

She stood nice and straight on Mr Souser's knee, quacked in the right places and didn't make a mess.

She - or maybe he, since Mr Souser said it's hard to sex ducks - could have as glittering a career as her director.

'Ducktastic' runs at the Theatre Royal from September 2 to 17 and the tickets are already on sale.

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