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The ugly duckling waddles on stage with the Co-op Juniors

PUBLISHED: 18:00 03 June 2019 | UPDATED: 09:43 04 June 2019

The cast of Honk! The Co-op Juniors present Honk! at the Seckford Theatre, Woodbridge, on Saturday, June 8 and Sunday, June 9. Picture: Co-op Juniors

The cast of Honk! The Co-op Juniors present Honk! at the Seckford Theatre, Woodbridge, on Saturday, June 8 and Sunday, June 9. Picture: Co-op Juniors

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Hans Christian Andersen's story of the Ugly Duckling is re-imagined in the musical Honk! presented by The Co-op Juniors' younger troupe at the Seckford Theatre, Woodbridge.

Rehearsing a production number. Picture: LJMRehearsing a production number. Picture: LJM

IIt's something of a surprise to mother mallard Ida when the duckling that emerges from the big egg doesn't quack like his pretty little siblings.

Instead, he lets rip with a mighty "Honk!!!" and gets called Ugly.

This version of the Ugly Duckling story introduces a predatory cat, a pompous goose squadron leader and a cheery bullfrog plus a range of other characters that our hero, Ugly, encounters on his journey to adulthood.

Directed by Thomas Haigh, the cast and chorus are aged between seven and 13 years old and are already looking like seasoned performers.

Ugly and the Cat fight their way through a blizzard. Picture: Co-op JuniorsUgly and the Cat fight their way through a blizzard. Picture: Co-op Juniors

The Co-op Juniors is a huge success story for Ipswich and the surrounding area, nurturing young talent and giving them stage skills and confidence that stays with them through life, whether or not they continue in the arts. While Honk! (junior version) is in rehearsal upstairs, the senior Juniors are downstairs rehearsing their July production of Peter Pan.

I have a special affection for this Ugly Duckling musical because I appeared in it a few years ago... although one of my scenes − when I appeared as a big-bottomed hen (yes, I did have to wear padding, thank you) does not feature in the Juniors' young persons' edition... although roller-skating does. I am so glad I didn't have to skate. The choreography has been done by ex-Juniors and older Juniors and includes some neat gymnastics.

The score, played and produced by Musical Director Nigel Virley, is great. The songs are funny, touching and memorable.

I was invited to watch the first run through which was not in costume although some of the cast kindly dressed up for my pictures. The working outfit is jazz shoes, leggings or shorts and T-shirts, all in black. As I arrived at the rehearsal venue, I saw one Junior's mum emerge with a batch of folded material, costume for the making of. The Ipswich-based Co-op Juniors is very much a family concern. While the children go to dance lessons, sing and act, the parents do the driving, make the costumes, chaperone the kids and become very much a part of the famous company.

The dancers in rehearsal. The Co-op Juniors present Honk! at the Seckford Theatre, Woodbridge, on Saturday, June 8 and Sunday, June 9. Picture: Co-op JuniorsThe dancers in rehearsal. The Co-op Juniors present Honk! at the Seckford Theatre, Woodbridge, on Saturday, June 8 and Sunday, June 9. Picture: Co-op Juniors

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The largest amateur theatre group in the UK, it has developed a way of working that has served it well since the the early 50s when it first began producing its own shows.

By the time I arrive, the girls and boys are all ready to go, concentrating on their roles and focused on their exits and entrances. The fun show runs without an interval for around an hour and you probably don't need me to tell you what happens to Ugly at the end but, just in case, there will be no spoilers here... it is a happy ending, though.

Director Thomas says the story, loved by children, also resonates beyond the tale of the ugly duckling. It shows what it is like to be left on the outside, simply because you are different, and further shows that love and understanding transcends differences.

Back row - the ducklings and Cat. Front row Drake and Ida. The Co-op Juniors present Honk! at the Seckford Theatre, Woodbridge, on Saturday, June 8 and Sunday, June 9. Picture: Co-op JuniorsBack row - the ducklings and Cat. Front row Drake and Ida. The Co-op Juniors present Honk! at the Seckford Theatre, Woodbridge, on Saturday, June 8 and Sunday, June 9. Picture: Co-op Juniors

The role of Ugly is being played by 11-year-old Stice, who won the part by auditioning.

"I had to act out a scene with the cat and sing a solo."

Stice has been with the Juniors for two years but she has been dancing since she was about seven. "I have grown up singing and dancing around the house, every day. Mum and dad used to say, 'please be quiet', she smiles. "Then they realised I can sing and dance... I love it. It's my favourite thing in the whole world. It makes me happy."

She talks about her character in the show. "Ugly is very naive, he doesn't know much about the world," says Stice of her character. "He gets bullied a lot because he is different; he was born different. But they don't know what his personality is like − he's a really nice guy... and quite goofy."

I ask Thomas how many youngsters are in the show and he thinks hard before calculating: "There are 39 in the cast."

Thomas has been in the Juniors for more than 20 years, largely as an actor and director. He is looking forward to the performances. "Honk! is a feel-good show and it has a nice message."

- Honk! Jr is at the Seckford Theatre, Woodbridge, on Saturday June 8, with two performances on Sunday, June 9. Tickets at wolseytheatre.co.uk/honkjr or 01473 295900.

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