Hindsight is a wonderful thing – especially when it is put to marvellous comedic effect to parody the biggest political scandal in recent years. Not many people would have been aware that duck houses even existed before Tory grandee Sir Peter Viggers claimed £1645 for his back in 2009. This extravagance at the tax payers expense came to epitomise politicians’ greed and immorality, and is now lampooned to perfection in Duck House by Dan Patterson and Colin Swash – the writers behind TV hits Have I Got News For You and Mock The Week.
Fictional Labour MP, Robert Houston, played with immaculate comedic timing by (one half of Armstrong and Miller comedy duo) Ben Miller, is political excess personified. He has expensed the aforementioned duck house, as well as a long list of other equally ludicrous items – a sparkling toilet seat, bags of manure, a massage chair, hanging baskets… All of which could probably have been swept under the Persian rug (also expensed) in his living room were he not about default to the Conservative Party with a big fanfare.
When Tory bigwig Sir Norman Cavendish turns up at Houston’s home his attempts to hide his transgressions are predictably farcical, resulting in them literally coming home to roost. Hanging baskets topple out of cupboards, manure falls out of windows and an attempt to pass the duck house off as a Russian dolls house is foiled when eggs come rolling out of the drawbridge and it starts to quack.
Houston’s expenses turn out to be the least of his problems however, when it is revealed he has a housekeeper without the right paperwork, employs his wife as his secretary despite her not being able to turn on a computer and is claiming for a second home he has never stepped foot in. You couldn’t make it up!
The script is mercilessly witty and plays on just how unpredictable politics can be. Nick Clegg is described as “a man who wouldn’t compromise his principles”, Andrew Mitchell as “a mild mannered man on his bicycle” and Chris Huhne as a “terrible driver; inseparable from his wife.”
The pace and slapstick humour are somewhat unrelenting and the gags are hardly subtle but the performances from Miller, Nancy Caroll as his wife, and James Musgrove as his son are pitched brilliantly, with a star turn also coming from Debbie Chazen as the Russian housekeeper come Daily Mail mouthpiece.
The play may on occasion feel slightly over the top and a little dated but the subject is a treasure-trove of gags and there are comedy gems throughout – no doubt all of those have been expensed as well.
* The Duck House is playing at the Vaudeville Theatre in London until March 29, 2014. Box office: 0844 482 9675