the missing hancocks

Four “lost” scripts by Ray Galton and Alan Simpson for the the 1950s radio show Hancock’s Half Hour are being performed here, two each on alternate days. I saw The Winter Holiday and New Year Resolution. The huge Music Hall at the Assembly Rooms, apparently filling every day (and not just with geriatrics like me), dwarfs what is on stage – just five actors standing at old-fashioned BBC microphones – and effectively diminishes it. This is a show that would suit being seen at a smaller venue or, better still, being listened to on a radio. Kevin McNally’s voice and delivery capture Hancock to perfection, Robin Sebastian is the camp Kenneth Williams, Simon Greenall the gruff Sid James, Alex Lowe the Aussie Bill Kerr and Suzy Kane is Hancock’s girlfriend, Andree Melly. Neil Pearson directs. And, to answer the obvious question, yes the scripts are still very funny, even if specific references in them became dated decades ago. A very pleasant stroll down Memory Lane

Performance date: 21 August 2015

Divas*** (Pleasance Dome, Edinburgh)

Posted: August 26, 2015 in Theatre

Divas_Fine_Mess_Image_Pleasance

The title suggests a drag show, but Joel Samuels’ surprising and tender one-act play is in fact the story of an on-off romance between Adam (Samuels) and Damian (Daniel Ward), dogged by seeming incompatibilities and petty deceptions. The pair speak through handheld microphones directly to the audience and to each other, conveying the narrative briskly and effectively. Adam persuades Damian to share his passion for 60s/70s divas – Cher, Dusty, Aretha, The Supremes, The Ronettes, etc – and a three-girl a cappella group interjects occasionally with numbers associated with those artists. It is here that the show falters – the arrangements are weak and the songs are projected with little conviction. In order to make sense of the link between the story and the music, we need the songs to be showcased better than this. However, there are interesting and original ideas here and certainly there is scope for the show to be developed further.

Performance date: 21 August 2015

LABELS_worklight_image1

Joe Sellman-Leava (let’s call him Joe for brevity) has got a bit of a nerve, luring us into a show that purports to be an amusing entertainment about the labels that we all stick on ourselves and each other and then delivering a thinly-disguised lecture on racism. Joe, a Devonian, is the son of an Indian (via Uganda) immigrant father who changed the family name from Patel, because that name was a label bringing with it too much prejudice. Joe’s winning smile and gently persuasive manner work wonders in selling his arguments, although quoting from speeches made by Enoch Powell half a century ago and from widely ridiculed figures such as David Starkey, Katie Hopkins and Jeremy Clarkson does not help him much. He tells us that the label “P**i” is unspeakably offensive, whilst not explaining why other four-letter labels of national origins – Brit, Jock, Taff, Frog, Yank, etc – are acceptable and did it not occur to him that the girl who rejected him on Tinder may have done so for no more sinister reason than that she just did not fancy him? Moving to the UK’s immigration policy, he argues that barriers are erected to keep out refugees on the grounds of racist labels, without considering that housing/job shortages and strains on health and education services could have something to do with it. However, I feel sure that Joe would agree that it’s good to disagree and, in getting us thinking and talking about these things, for him it’s job well done.

Performance date: 21 August 2015

the christians

Not being a great admirer of the divisions that religions have brought to the World, I felt less than enthused by the prospect of learning more of divisions within one specific religion. Lucas Hnath’s play begins with an all-female choir singing gospel songs; the setting is a thriving American church, but its Pastor (William Gaminara) is about to preach a sermon questioning the existence of Hell, bringing about a rift in the church led by its Associate Pastor (Stefan Adegbola). Hnath argues both cases with great clarity and weaves in personal relationships of protagonists and church politics to make an absorbing 85 minutes of subdued drama that is acted convincingly. However, from the perspective of a bystander, the big question is why these people can’t just get their acts together and practice what they preach.

Performance date: 21 August 2015

how to keep an alien

Sonya Kelly’s account of her battle with bureaucracy in trying to get an Irish residency visa for her Australian girlfriend is wryly amusing, tender and heartfelt. To be honest, there is not much substance to the story and not much wit to embellish it, but its simplicity and Kelly’s likeable personality are enough to sell it.

 

Performance date: 20 August 2015

monkhouse

We think back on, say, Tommy Cooper or Eric Morecambe with affection. Mention Bob Monkhouse and the word that comes into most people’s minds is “smarmy”. Neither an alcoholic nor a drug addict, not suffering from depression or deprivation and only a womaniser in a very low-key way, Monkhouse was an ordinary, middle class guy, rather like a bank manager who told jokes. This ordinariness is Alex Lowe’s biggest problem in bringing his play to life, particularly as most of the gags now seem very dated. The framework is Monkhouse writing a speech for an event to mark the 20th anniversary of the death of his one-time comedy partner, Dennis Goodwin, giving him the opportunity to reflect on his earlier career. This show’s greatest asset is an uncanny performance by Simon Cartwright; it only takes a few seconds to accept that this is the real Monkhouse standing there. He shows us a devoted family man, a consummate professional who thought in jokes and then wrote them all down and filed them. Interesting and mildly amusing.

Performance date: 20 August 2015

polyphony

Making our way to our seats across the stage at this small in-the-round venue, we brush past a bearded techie making last-minute adjustments to props. The “techie” is in fact Daniel Kitson, a man who has displayed signs of control freakery before and is now about to take the trait way further. In recent times, Kitson has been called “the new Samuel Beckett”, having had two plays performed at the National Theatre and one at the Old Vic. This seems to settle the argument conclusively that his works are in fact plays and not stand-up routines. Polyphony is again described a play, but, accepting that to be so, let’s call it a play about a stand-up routine. Many of the elements are familiar and Kitson again reveals an obsession with recently obsolete electrical equipment – in Anolog:Ue it was tape recorders and now it is i-Pods, which are placed into the hands of 15 audience members. In effect, Kitson is taking control of his audience by supplying his own hecklers. In a display of immaculate synchronisation and timing, he listens to the generally disparaging comments coming from the i-pods and reacts to them. The framework starts out to be a story about an old man going through junk as he prepares to move house, but Kitson seems to lose interest in the story and thereby discards any prospect of the touches of pathos that have made his previous plays so memorable. The joke begins to wear a little thin towards the end, leaving the impression that this is very minor Kitson. Nonetheless, it is meticulously crafted, original and for the most part highly entertaining.

Performance date: 20 August 2015