It was almost inevitable that the great Westminster expenses scandal, with MPs frittering taxpayers’ money on second homes, moat-cleaning and duck houses, should become a target for stage satire.
Writers Dan Patterson and Colin Swash are made for the job, and with the inspired casting of Ben Miller as Labour backbencher Robert Houston, the scene was set for an evening of splendid entertainment in The Duck House, at Nottingham Theatre Royal prior to a West End run.
Houston is an MP who has it all and has claimed for most of it. He loves the House of Commons and would do anything to save his seat. But in May 2009, Gordon Brown’s Government is in meltdown and, with the writing on the wall, Houston decides to cross the floor. All is going well until the fallout from the expenses scandal hits the fan. Then Houston and his family really do have a problem.
Miller, familiar to TV from Death in Paradise and The Armstrong and Miller Show, is quite superb as the increasingly embattled MP in a play which is more farce than satire, although the devastatingly current barbs of wit often reduce the audience to helpless laughter.
He has the support of an excellent cast. Houston’s wife Felicity (Nancy Carroll) can barely switch on the computer although he has her listed as his secretary. Student son Seb (James Musgrave) goes down as an assistant despite his ultra left opinions and a bombparliament email address. His fiancée Holly (Diana Vickers) puts her own stamp on the flat Houston has bought for his son (or at least the taxpayer has) in what becomes a major role.
The Russian maid Ludmilla (Debbie Chazen) almost steals the show with political views that are more UKIP than Marxist. The chaos really begins with the arrival of Tory grandee Sir Norman Cavendish (Simon Shepherd) as David Cameron’s enforcer to vet Houston’s expenses. You just know that he’s going to get caught with his trousers down but how and when really is worth the wait.
Terry Johnson directs a play which also poses the question of whether MPs get paid enough.