Previewed 27 November 2013, Opened 10 December 2013, Closed 29 March 2014 at the Vaudeville Theatre in London
Dan Patterson and Colin Swash's new stage comedy The Duck House in London starring Ben Miller, Simon Shepherd and Diana Vickers and directed by Terry Johnson.
It's May 2009 and Gordon Brown's Labour Government is in meltdown and a General Election is just one year away. Labour backbencher Robert Houston loves being an MP and will do anything to save his seat - including change sides. All is going well with his switch from red to blue until, on the eve of his final interview with Sir Norman Cavendish, a Tory grandee, the Expenses Scandal breaks. As public fury mounts over taxpayers' millions being frittered away on second homes, hanging baskets, lavatory seats, moat-cleaning and duck houses, Robert and his secretarial staff (aka wife Felicity, student son Seb, gorgeous girlfriend Holly and Russian housekeeper Ludmilla) find themselves in big, big trouble.
The play's producer, Nica Burns, said: "The whole MPs' expenses scandal is a comedy gold mine. We have a great tradition in this country of poking fun at our politicians, but which other scandals have allowed such scope for visual jokes and the chance to use lots of fantastic props?" Among those props will be a duck house made by the same company that supplied Sir Peter Viggers, a former Tory MP, with the now infamous £1,645 item he claimed for on his parliamentary expenses.
The cast for The Duck House in London features Ben Miller as 'Robert Houston MP' with Nancy Carroll as 'Felicity Houston', Simon Shepherd as 'Sir Norman Cavendish' and Diana Vickers as 'Holly' along with Debbie Chazen as 'Ludmilla' and James Musgrave as 'Seb'. The production is directed by Terry Johnson with designs by Lez Brotherston, lighting by Mark Henderson and sound by John Leonard.
Ben Miller is best known for being half of of the comedy act Armstrong and Miller along with Alexander Armstrong. His television credits include the TV series Death in Paradise. His recent London West End stage credits include The Ladykillers at the Gielgud Theatre in 2011. Simon Shepherd's recent London stage credits include Lyndsey Turner's production of Laura Wade's play Posh at the Duke of York's Theatre in 2012 and Guy Retallack's revival of David Hare's play Secret Rapture at the Lyric Theatre in 2003. Diana Vickers, who was a semi-finalist on TVs The X Factor in 2008, starred in the title role of Terry Johnson's revival of Jim Cartwright's play The Rise and Fall of Little Voice at the Vaudeville Theatre in 2009.
"One of the most remarkable aspects of amiable farce The Duck House, by Dan Patterson and Colin Swish, is that they have had to invent so little. The already ludicrous facts require neither exaggeration nor parody. More surprisingly, the authors have generously (spinelessly?) decided to see this vice as really quite nice and jolly good fun, for they have let these unabashed fraudsters (for that is what they are) off absurdly lightly. Savage satire, this is not. For much of the better first half, jokes fall like carpet bombs. We see shameless Robert Houston MP (the brilliantly quick-witted Ben Miller, riding panic like a cowboy astride a buckling bronco), who has decided to jump ship from Labour to the Tories because he's going to lose his seat, attempting to hide his hanging baskets, massage chair and duck houses from the visiting Tory Sir Norman Cavendish... Fortunately, Simon Shepherd's stuck-up Cavendish is too dim to notice. But then, in the slapstick second half, when the action moves to the second home Houston has never lived in it turns out that Cavendish has skeletons of his own. Cue nappies, Angela Merkel, Lisbon treaties - and wardrobes and panda costumes in which to hide. Hilarious, but without the edge of hysteria of truly great farce. Terry Johnson's production is a highly entertaining Christmas quacker but, alas, never sets feathers flying as it might have." The Mail on Sunday
"Ben Miller plays Robert Houston so hysterically and physically that his company becomes tiresome. Nancy Carroll, as his wife, is little more than a foil for his endless succession of gags, and there is a stock feeling to the way that James Musgrave plays his gormless son. Debbie Chazen, as the family's cleaner Ludmilla, is no more than a "comedy foreigner," and she is mildly offensive for that reason. Simon Shepherd at least tries to give some gravitas to Sir Norman Cavendish, David Cameron's fixer, who is trying to make as much political capital out of Miller's defection as possible... It is true that there were farcical elements to the expenses scandal, but it was ultimately a profoundly depressing affair. Terry Johnson's production plays it purely for laughs and this is its unforgivable weakness... I wanted to like The Duck House, but I am afraid I found it a trivial and rather silly play." The Sunday Telegraph
"This should have been so good: a scathing stage comedy about the MPs' expenses scandal and our political leaders spending our money on massage chairs, porn films and avian-themed garden ornaments. Yet Dan Patterson and Colin Swash have written broad farce, not satire. Ben Miller gets caught with his trousers down, a pompous Tory is splatted with Victoria sponge cake, and there's even an east European domestic with a funny accent. I chuckle easily, but I wasn't amused... In the main this is a Lame Duck House, with jokes so feeble, they should be on a drip, nil by mouth, do not resuscitate." The Sunday Times
"The best of Dan Patterson and Colin Swash's script nods to the future: the unmemorable Miliband brother, the happily married, kindly Chris Huhne. Elsewhere it's merely loopy: the Russian housekeeper is a Daily Mail-reading racist; son Seb's a soggy-headed Leftie who bets on cock fights, dresses as a panda and protests outside the embassy... Ben Miller's an unimpeachable, amazingly assured comic presence throughout, who redeems the night. Terry Johnson directs with verve and precision, and Nancy Carroll is wonderful as the hyperventilating Mrs Houston. But, lacking an internal logic and a political point, this often feels like formulaic, toothless farce." The Metro
The Duck House in London at the Vaudeville Theatre previewed from 27 November 2013, opened on 10 December 2013 and closed on 29 March 2014.