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Mark Fisher
Edinburgh, Scotland, United Kingdom
Follow me @markffisher and @writeabouttheat I am an Edinburgh-based freelance journalist and critic specialising in theatre and the arts. Publications I write for include the Guardian, Scotland on Sunday and the Scotsman. I am the author of The Edinburgh Fringe Survival Guide: how to make your show a success, published in February 2012 and How to Write About Theatre: A Manual for Critics, Students and Bloggers published in July 2015. From 2000-2003, I was the editor of The List magazine, Glasgow and Edinburgh's arts and events guide. See my website for more information and comprehensive Scottish theatre links.
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Tuesday, December 11, 2012

The Ugly Duckling, theatre review

Published in the Guardian

Arches/Catherine Wheels
Four stars

IT'S not so much the spirit of Christmas birth as of Easter resurrection that possesses this Hans Christian Andersen adaptation by Catherine Wheels. It begins, delightfully, in a farmyard-cum-maternity unit where first pig, then horse, and finally mother hen are bringing their young into the world. Two piglets wobble out from beneath Gill Robertson's skirts, a floppy foal appears in Laurie Brown's field and, after much concentration, Veronica Leer fills an egg box with little white ovals. They're followed by another the size of a football – a misfit from the start.

Springtime renewal comes easy to the newly hatched ducklings, perching prettily on Leer's head as they learn to swim before being hung out on the washing line to dry. For the ugly duckling, by contrast, rebirth is a tougher call.
Played by Brown in school shorts and grey balaclava, he'd just love to stretch his enormous wings and walk tall to a blast of flamboyant disco music. But his siblings are having none of it. If you've never felt intimidated by a rubber duck, you haven't seen this lot, lined up on the rooftop and squeaking in unison, a chilling vision of bullying intolerance.

So off goes the ugly duckling to find himself, seeing if he can fit in among moles, pedigree dogs or scavenging foxes. Whether they're hospitable or eager to eat him, he feels forever out of place.

Created by Andy Manley and Shona Reppe, this show for younger audiences could perhaps push the ugly duckling's sense of helpless despair even further (touching though the scene of wintry isolation is), but offers instead a charming metaphor about sexual liberation. This swan's awakening comes complete with a mirror-ball crash helmet and a wings-in-the-air dance to the Village People, a celebratory finale in which he is joyously allowed to be himself.
© Mark Fisher, 2012 (Pic: Niall Walker)

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