Writers Alice Bounce, Maxwell Taylor and Owen Jenkins
Director: Christa Harris
Reviewer: Maryam Philpott
When David Attenborough launched a flock of rubber ducks into the sea to track the movement of plastic around the world in Blue Planet II, as well as highlighting the long-lasting impact of polluting our oceans, he also created an influential television moment. Taking inspiration from this idea, FacePlant Theatre has devised a new tale of “romance, adventure and destiny” as one man attempts to track them all down.
Aimed predominantly at young children with an audience of mostly adults, One Duck Down is the story of 17-year old paperboy Billy’s quest to win over the woman he loves by completing the impossible tasks she sets. Having already taught the seagulls of Pebbletown to sing the National Anthem and counted all the stones on the beach, Cecilia sends Billy on a round-the-world quest to locate all 7000 tiny rubber ducks. With just a small tin boat and a packed lunch, Billy discovers that humanity’s bad behaviour is causing havoc in the animal kingdom.
This rather sweet one-hour show is a treat for adults and children alike, combining plenty of cheeky humour and pop culture references for the grown-ups with larger than life characters and plenty of silliness for its younger audience. Writers Alice Bounce, Maxwell Tyler and Owen Jenkins have got the balance just about right with an episodic story with a clear overarching theme about reducing our effect on the natural world.
It’s the kind of show that clearly takes a lot of imagination, or a lot of drinks, to create as it attempts to marry Billy’s utterly surreal encounters with numerous different creatures with both the overarching storyline and an environmental theme. And on the whole, it achieves this very successfully, keeping the older members of the audience roaring with laughter as their junior companions sit entranced by the combination of puppetry, songs and vibrantly drawn scenarios.
After a first encounter with Siamese-Twin seagulls Alma and Tracey, bound together by litter and in love with the Italian opera-loving Albatross Alberto, Billy meets a big fish with poor eyesight ingesting all kinds of rubbish, before encountering the show’s absolute highlight, Scuzzy the Brummie electric-guitar playing Polar Bear whose music annoys his neighbours, the Polar Bear Marching Band, because the melting ice caps no longer deaden the sound of each other’s music. It’s absolutely mad but played with such conviction and joy that Tyler soon has the whole audience joining in his song, backed by a Walrus dancer.
And the fun doesn’t end there, so when the duck collection counter reaches 6999 after a trip to Rubbish Island, the home to some hand-puppet crabs – one of which is called Clawdia – a sense of jeopardy is introduced in the final section as Norman and Leslie the Pirates in Training are introduced, resulting in a mostly mimed visit to the rides of Coney Island to retrieve Billy’s hard-earned treasure.
Every section of the show is carefully thought through, utilising a deliberately shoddy set and props all made from reclaimed and recycled rubbish, designed by Lily Faith Knight, which all adds to the thrown-together charm of the show. Bounce, Tyler, Jenkins and Lydia Hourihan cram everything they have into their multi-role performances, creating a mad-cap story that’s full of character while maintaining the energy from start to finish.
Showing at the Vault Festival, the production is billed as family-friendly and only showing in the afternoons but there’s plenty for adults to enjoy. Like many pantos, there’s probably scope for a late night adult’s only version with very few tweaks, because One Duck Down manages to take an important topic and successfully deliver its serious message in a light-hearted way. David Attenborough would be proud.
Runs until: 18 February 2018 | Image: Contributed