Cleo, Camping, Emmanuelle & Dick
20 October 1998 Cleo, Camping, Emmanuelle and Dick on National Tour
Note: The following review dates from the production's run, from September 1998 to January 1999, at the National's Lyttelton Theatre.
The cutaway walls of
Sid James' formica-lined trailer give away some eyebrow-raising secrets in Terry Johnson's new play, . Cleo, Camping, Emmanuelle and Dick
Did you know, for instance, that the prune faced comic was a homophobic dipso, with gambling debts and an illegitimate daughter? Or that
Babs Windsor made a cuckold of gangster hubby Ronnie Knight? Or, indeed, that Kenny Williams was a petty-minded, flatulent egocentric, obsessed with his haemorrhoids? Well that's the real world of Carry On according to Johnson, and a convincing job he's made of it too. All credit, of course, to the way the writer-director has managed to blend the characters' off-screen traits (recently documented in TV programmes like Carry On Darkly) with their celebrated on-screen personae.
The lugubrious Williams (
Adam Godley) and man's man James( Geoffrey Hutchings), in particular, come across as a real pair of saddos. When these guys aren't launching into each other, they're shown hurling invective at all and sundry: skinflint producer Peter Rogers, screenwriter Talbot Rothwell, Joe Orton, Tony Hancock and even the weather.
There's even jealousy in the way Sid's status on set has brought him a swish Merry Traveller trailer(designed by
William Dudley), while Kenny has to rough it with the rest of the oiks. Over the four scenes of the play, Johnson uses this cabin to symbolize the play's twin themes of success and decline.
Thus, when the going is good, it's a pulling-pad on wheels full of naked women; later it's a bottle-strewn retreat where Sid wallows in his own alcohol-fuelled paranoia and suffers an angina attack; and finally with Sid dead and the films at their nadir, it's just a dilapidated hulk on a Pinewood backlot, resting at an angle which suggests the fall of both the series and the star himself.
Not that Johnson (who has trawled the world of British screen comedy before in
Dead Funny) hasn't managed to balance the pathos with a good measure of humour .True to the style of the politically incorrect films there are some neat double-entendres and moments of pure farce. That said, many of the laughs emanate from the way the actors mimic their characters so valiantly. Samantha Spiro has Barbara Windsor's looks, machine-gun giggle and Cockney sparrer mannerisms down to a tee; Hutchings with his brillo-pad hair and furrowed brow, has the trademark rasping laugh, though struggles a little with the voice. But perhaps the greatest success, is Godley who repeatedly brings the house down with his renditions of Williams' witticisms. And to cap it all, he's even been blessed with the sort of nostrils you could park a car in.
It's engrossing stuff all right, and even if you're not a big fan of the original series, I'll wager you'll still find this portrayal of a comic institution on the slide touching and poignant.
Richard Forrest Related Content
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