It’s a tale as old as time; a story most children would have heard a version of, about an unusual duckling who didn’t quite fit in. Q Theatre’s adaptation of the Hans Christian Andersen classic uses physical theatre to explore difference and acceptance.
In a pool noodle paradise, designed by Melanie Liertz, two ducklings (Cloé Fournier and Cassandra Sorrell) scoot out of their wetland nests for a day of play. Soon, they discover an unexpected companion (Skye Gellmann) who looks near enough to them, but then not quite right. They include the new member of their group in their ritual of collecting little orbs hidden in their environment, but they never let the gangling grey thing too close, chasing it away and excluding it repeatedly.
It’s a very familiar story easily mapped onto experiences of difference and fear in both kid and adult contexts. The odd duckling is excluded for not looking the same as the yellow ducklings but the secret none of them know is that it’s actually a cygnet, a baby swan, and will grow into its own shape just as important as the ducks. Director Nick Atkins adds another dimension to this duckling story with Fournier’s coveting Gellmann’s freshly grown white feathers. With this complication, the ducklings’ bullying becomes far more sinister, tinged with envy and entitlement.
Fournier plays the haughty and possessive duckling well with bill and tail feathers high in the air at all times. Her partner in crime Sorrell is a far more relaxed duckling, invested in maintaining peace on the pond. Gellmann stands out for more than just their cygnet attire, but they play the naive and easily startled creature beautifully, especially as it grows to understand its own majesty. Gellmann’s exploratory bar work, floating, dipping, and swinging above the sleeping ducklings in full swan glory, was understatedly moving.
Choreography by Fournier was reserved throughout the production with physical performance shining through in a few head and handstands and other balancing tricks. But the attention to detail in making real the physicality and mannerisms of ducks was sweet and really made the characterisations.
The technical design added further whimsy to the creative set design and costuming. Sound design from Melanie Herbert in particular blended elements of natural bird song and pond splashing with magical tones and instrumental moments including cello composed by Paul Smith and played by Clare Kahn. The use of pink plastic balls to represent rainfall and a full pond was an imaginative addition and added playful diegetic sound to the production. With an otherwise fairly static set, the technical design was able to amplify auxiliary world-building to subtly construct a full realm of wonder for the tiny audience members, especially.
This reimagining of the Ugly Duckling retains all of the heart of the original while injecting it with joy and silliness to bring the story alive for contemporary kids.
The Ugliest Duckling is running at the Joan Sutherland Performing Arts Centre from July 11th – 13th