The Duck House at Cambridge Arts Theatre - Review by Angela Singer

The Duck House at Cambridge Arts Theatre

The Duck House at Cambridge Arts Theatre - Credit: Archant

The Duck House by Colin Swash and Dan Patterson, starring Ben Miller at Cambridge Arts Theatre until Saturday, November 23. Review by ANGELA SINGER.

Do you remember when you could trust MPs? That’s how Ben Miller opens this rather clever farce about the expenses scandal that rocked Parliament in the spring and summer of 2009 when this play is set.

The audience roared with laughter and kept on roaring for the first half hour as every line delivered by a comic master was another gorgeous whammer. Miller’s character Robert Houston MP is a Labour politician with his snout so deep in the trough he wants to become a Tory.

As his wife Felicity (Nancy Carroll) says: “Oh no more having to drink Jacob’s Creek!”

He pictures the next Cabinet: “William Hague, he’ll be Foreign Secretary. He’s from Yorkshire, every where’s foreign to him...George Osborne will be Chancellor of the Exchequer. He knows about money, his father’s got tonnes of it.”

The laughter was almost a release as a packed theatre was reminded of the scandals of the last Labour Government: “There was Mandelson and Blunkett, and Mandelson again, and Prescott (that must have been a strong desk), and Blunkett again...”

And the coalition doesn’t escape either. When Houston’s son Seb (played by James Musgrave) hears he is going to join The Conservatives he says: “Why don’t you join the Lib Dems, at least they have principles. Nick Clegg would never go back on his word.”

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And later: “Chris Huhne, he gave me a lift, he did drive fast. Met his wife Vicky, they’re inseparable.”

The play is clever. The whole run has sold out in the three theatres it has played in so far, including Cambridge, but the wit is not sustained. It comes in big bursts. The play does not pretend to be anything other than a fast-paced farce (albeit heavily laced with satire) and you have to love farce to really enjoy it. You have all the traditional elements of slapstick, the custard pie, the character hiding in a cupboard, Miss Whiplash and our man with his trousers down. Yes, it’s suspenders of disbelief.

In 10 years’ time, when other scandals have overtaken the current ones and the expenses scandal has faded in our consciousness as just a thing of its time, the play might need a new script to get the same belly laughs. But for now, heading for a West End hit season, it is of the moment and it’s going to run and run.