Duck! relocates panto to Heaton Park

Kevin Bourke
duck big z arts christmas theatre

Z-arts Christmas production Duck! sees an alt. version of The Ugly Duckling set in Manchester’s own Heaton Park – with surprising results.

“I want children’s first theatre experiences to be accessible and relevant to their own lives as well as being fun and entertaining,” says Liz O’ Neill, CEO of Z-arts creative space. Like this year’s Big Imaginations children’s theatre festival, in which the Hulme-based Z-arts was a prime mover, the company’s Christmas production, Duck! can’t be faulted in its laudable aims. Following the festive success of last year’s Pinocchio, a thoroughly modern retelling of a classic tale, Z-arts has teamed up with director Julia Samuels from Liverpool-based theatre company Twenty Stories High, along with award-winning children’s writer Philip Osment, to adapt the very familiar tale of The Ugly Duckling. Although the show was originally staged at London’s Unicorn Theatre, its location has been reset to Heaton Park especially for a Manchester audience. Although none of which would matter much at all if the show itself weren’t as beguilingly entertaining as it turns out to be.

Ugly has to overcome squabbling siblings, a less-than-supportive aunt and all manner of fowl things

Narrated by a homeless man – played by Jim Pope – prone to forgetting which part of Ireland he claims to come from, Duck! follows the adventures of Ugly (Nathan Morris), an outcast duckling searching for identity and purpose in an overwhelming world. Along the path to enlightenment, Ugly has to overcome squabbling siblings, a less-than-supportive aunt, a sly fox, a frankly terrifying bird of prey and all manner of fowl things – as well as discover his own missing sense of self-worth. His story runs parallel with that of Zach (Curtis Cole), a young boy coming to terms with his parents’ separation. Then, one Christmas, their lives collide and it’s more than feathers that fly.

Z-arts’ seven performers play 36 different characters between them. Inevitably, some are more convincing than others, but their versions of various birds are especially impressive. There’s original music and beatboxing from Jason Singh, who takes influences from dubstep and hip-hop and remixes them with the score of Swan Lake to create a live soundscape, complete with quacking. It’s all great fun and a fine example of a truly contemporary theatre experience for children and families. Oh yes it is!

Culture Guides


David Bowie, Japanese classics and some early spooky screenings all feature in this month’s cinema guide.


Welcome the autumnal season with all of the art goodness that it brings – there are so many brand new exhibitions to see!


As we say bye to the summer holidays and begin to welcome in the cooler months, Manchester’s events and activities continue to bring joy and fun to families.

Kamila Shamsie. Photo Alex von Tunzelman


There are plenty of online readings and live launches as Manchester and the North welcomes some great writers with book festival season getting underway, and there are loads of new spoken word nights and open mics to check out…


Autumn’s a fine old time for gigs in Manchester and the North. From otherworldly folk to life-affirming soul, here are our top picks for October onwards.

Theatre in Manchester and the North


As the new theatre season gets ready to launch, we champion some of the star performances happening over the next few months.

Classical Music in Manchester and the North

We preview the standout classical music events and venues in Manchester and the north.

Food and Drink

Explore the best restaurants and bars in Manchester and the North as we head into autumn.

Tours and Activities

Every season change is an excuse to try something new, and when it comes to tours and activities, autumn delivers!