I went to ‘Round The Horne…Revisited’ and thoroughly enjoyed it. The writing was tight, the performances excellent, and there was a real feel that the show had a USP – giving the ‘live recording’ experience to people who could not, by way of the intervening years, have been expected necessarily to be there viewing long dead comedy heroes ‘live in the flesh’. It really worked, on so many levels, and all those Sunday lunchtime Radio 4 repeats, had elevated the characters – and indeed many of the routines – to cult status.
Which is why ‘Stop Messing About’ at the Leicester Square Theatre is such a strange beast. Culled from the scripts which had been bound for ‘Round The Horne’ but which had hastily to be adapted on the sad passing of Kenneth Horne, from more or less the same authors, but having none of the freshness, appeal, or ready-made audience of ‘Horne’, we are told the radio show didn’t really work when transmitted – largely due to the need for Kenneth Williams to switch from being a reactive performer, as he had been in ‘Round The Horne’ to carrying the show. On the basis of what I saw at Wednesday Evening’s performance it was easy to see why.
The ‘show within a show’ USP which was so appealing before, has become a limp coat-hanger on which to hang a series of almost painfully unfunny sketches – the one exception being the Judge, Sir Inigo Parchmutter - and performances of such un-nuanced grotesquery, that I wonder what the director, Michael Kingsbury, thought he was doing.
Of the five performers on stage, the sound man, Keith Wickham, Kenneth Williams played by Robin Sebastian, Joan Sims played by Emma Atkins, Hugh Paddick Nigel Harrison, and the announcer, Douglas Smith played by Charles Armstrong, the only one who can truly be said to come out if the whole affair with any dignity is Nigel Harrison (Paddick) who does at least have genuine comic timing.
Of the rest, Sebastian’s Williams was – after Michael Sheen’s deeply moving television portrayal – a caricature too far. Armstrong as the announcer was suitably bland, though underused, and as for ‘Joan Sims’ – well, what can I say. It was some woman in a blond wig who, had I not been told was supposed to be Joan Sims could have been anyone from Pauline Calf to Margaret Beckett, such was the lack of any definable persona.
You can gauge a lot from how a performance is viewed by speaking to the front of house staff. Sometimes they’re charmingly kind, sometimes endearingly off-message with regard to whatever’s currently filling the house. After speaking to the staff at the Leicester Square Theatre, I can only suggest that maybe the production team ought to put some money behind the bar to try to regain the respect of these unsung ambassadors for the show.
All in all, I came out feeling slightly grubby. Like I’d been mugged. Please, surprise us and give us something original. A classic is only a classic if it was any good to begin with. The worked out seam from which this show was mined was certainly not a classic when transmitted, and is not a classic now, whatever gimmick you use to dress it up in.
- Richard Voyce
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