Review: The Not So Ugly Duckling: A Play for Grownups

Maria MacDonell and Jo Clifford sensitively reimagine the Hans Christian Andersen tale

theatre review (edinburgh) | Read in About 1 minute
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The Not So Ugly Duckling
Photo by Robin Mitchell
Published 24 Aug 2022

Hans Christian Andersen’s tale of the Ugly Duckling will be a familiar story to most, but in Maria MacDonell and Jo Clifford’s version, the duo reimagine the fairytale as an ode to life and all of its upheaval and chaos. Clifford plays the ugly duckling that intrudes on Mother Duck’s (MacDonell’s) nest, awkwardly and ungracefully taking up space where it doesn’t belong.

Both outstanding performers and collaborators, Clifford and MacDonell play out the tale with a sensitivity and frankness that brutally depicts the ‘survival of the fittest’ mentality. We hear of the duckling drowned by its mother for its own good and elsewhere, a graphic description of how mallards violently inseminate ducks. But we can all relate to the plight of our ugly duckling – dejected, depressed and misunderstood by all for being different and furthermore, confused about how to overcome such negative feelings. 

When the frozen winter comes and all hope seems lost, there remains a glimmer in the duckling’s defiance. But the message of this play is not one of evolution or changing for the better; it’s about acceptance and uniqueness, and ultimately, owning who we are as complex and often damaged individuals.