Review: Ugly Duckling, Tutti Frutti and York Theatre Royal, at The Studio, York Theatre Royal, until October 14, then on tour. Box office: 01904 623568 or at DUCK out. Swan around. Even goosing! Look how we turn bird life into verbs to describe dubious human acts.

Likewise, storytelling, especially for children, has a way of refracting our behaviour through anthropomorphic stories of birds and animals, not least in the works of Disney and Hans Christian Andersen.

Leeds children's theatre company Tutti Frutti, in tandem with regular partners York Theatre Royal, turn the spotlight on the theme of identity, belonging and fitting in, built around a journey to discover inner beauty in Ugly Duckling, a new 55-minute adaptation of Andersen's work The Ugly Duckling.

Tutti Frutti have called on Emma Reeves, the hot-property children's writer for stage and TV, to sprinkle her gold dust over a story for three year olds and upwards, breaking away from writing for six-plus as she does more often.

Tutti Frutti, under the direction of Wendy Harris, are on a roll with international tours and a London Christmas run on account of the consistently fabulous quality of their work, and Ugly Duckling is no exception.

The tale is brought to life through story-telling, drama, song, puppetry and physical theatre by Harris's cast of three actor-musicians, who engage immediately with Saturday afternoon's full house of young families. Irish actress Maeve Leahy is the kindly, mumsy Mum (Mother Duck as was), nurturing one giant egg and her array of new born ducklings, played chirpily by Nick Ash's puppets, whereupon "Ugly" is hatched: all in grey wool, with spectacles and a bobble hat, gangly limbed and awkward.

Daniel Naddafy's Fluffy, the duckling with the yolk-yellow jumper, matching socks and skin-tight Mick Jagger trousers, initially gives Ugly a hard time in playground misfit tradition, but as the story progresses through four seasons, so the themes play out delightfully against the changing scenery of Catherine Chapman's design.

The snow scene, in particular, is a thing of beauty, the cast waving white flags that release snow flakes, then entwining themselves in white gauze material, before Ugly re-emerges in swan form. Reeves has re-invented the swans as a kind of boy band, all white trousers and jackets and dark glasses, Naddafy talking the London patois of today, innit. Holly Irving's movement direction works wonders at this point too.

Tayo Akinbode's compositions are lovely and lively, ranging from calypso to a George Formby-style ukulele rag, the audience joining in with all the movements for the Swan Song finale.

"It isn't how you look, it's what you do," is the mantra of Reeves's play, and what you do in Ugly Duckling is find where you belong but also show appreciation for those who help you on that journey: one where you recognise the inner beauty in others, especially mothers with their unconditional love. No swanning off for Ugly!

Tutti Frutti and York Theatre Royal's Ugly Duckling runs at The Studio, York Theatre Royal, until October 14, then on tour. Box office: 01904 623568 or at