Ugly Duck: Port Vale, poignancy and polish

Ugly Duck: Port Vale, poignancy and polish

There’s not too many plays that contain references to Port Vale striker Tom Pope and feature full-frontal nudity, so did “Ugly Duck” manage to impress OVF editor Rob Fielding?

Yes, it’s funny, yes, it contains authentic references to Port Vale that a fan could find believable, but it is also a funny and thought provoking look at the struggles of Potteries folk…

Rob Fielding writes

I was intrigued by “Ugly Duck” as soon as I was contacted by the Claybody Theatre group. It was supposedly all about a Vale fan who finds employment as a life model, just as long as he can keep his hat on. A simple premise, I thought. Will it be any more than the Potteries version of the “Full Monty” I wondered?

Well, I am pleased to say, it was.

Deborah McAndrew’s play has far more depth to it than that of a simple comedy. Yes, it’s funny, yes, it contains authentic references to Port Vale that a fan could find believable, but it is also a funny and thought provoking look at the struggles of Potteries folk.

Phil Wright is outstanding as Vale fan Dennis, his life seemingly in tatters, who takes desperate measures in order to show “his missus” that he quite literally has “some balls”.

Set in the very heart of the mother town – Buslem’s School of Art – intimacy is a key theme of the production – the compact six person theatre group, the small upstairs room where the play takes place, the intimacy of Dennis’ full frontal posing and the drawing out of the intimate details of the four characters’ lives.

That’s not to say that this production is grim viewing, far from it. It’s packed full of wonderful lines, many with a local flavour. Dennis tells us he’s well travelled and not just lived in Stoke all his life. “Where did you live,” asks Mark? “Leek,” comes the reply.

Surely  this is the first theatre production to praise Chris Shuker’s crosses…

Naturally, as a Vale fan, I was delighted at the references to my football club (surely this is the first theatre production to praise Chris Shuker’s crosses) but this isn’t a play merely for fans of the Valiants.

It is a production that will resonate with young adults trying to find their vocation – with Rachel Austin believably portraying struggling artist Kat as a character that those seeking to set out by themselves and trying to find their identify would thorouhly understand.

It will also resonate with parents. Kat’s mother and father, Mark and Drina initally appear to be there to merely provide comic effect, but as the play progresses, the excellent James Masters and Susan Twist bring a depth of character that managed to cover issues of national identity, of family, of employment, of how to support your children and (for Drina, at least), the importance of a sensible haircut.

It will also resonate with anyone who’s struggled in life or work as, beautifully delivered Potteries’ references aside, this is a play which anyone who’s ever faced adversity could relate to.

Ugly Duck manages to be both poignant and funny. It is a play very much of the Potteries, yet accessible for all. Ultimately it shows that while beauty is not skin deep, sometimes, it’s only by shedding your personal inhibitions that you can find out what your true value really is.

I would thoroughly recommend “Ugly Duck” and I’m only sorry that due to its limited run, I can’t see it again. It is being performed in Birmingham for a few more days, so if you want to spend two hours absorbed in a tale of everyday Pottery folk and even pick up the odd reference to Tom Pope, then go and see it.

“Ugly Duck” is is being performed from the 21-23 November at the Foyle Studio, MAC Birmingham. The play starts at 8pm and tickets can be purchased by calling 0121 446 3232


Very much a local affair

It was also a treat to see local companies supporting the production. The Barewall gallery provided artwork from both Rob Pointon and Paine Proffitt, Titanic bitter was on sale during the interval, while Moorland Pottery (who produced the excellent OVF mugs) had Ugly Duck mugs on sale.


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