This touring version of the show still going strong in the West End is a
surprisingly successful staging of the classic radio comedy of the 1960s.
Adapted by Brian Cooke, the last surviving member of the original writing
team (which also included Marty Feldman, Barry Took and Johnnie
Mortimer), Round the Horne...Revisited contains some new material but
is largely based on the radio series scripts. Even if one's first reaction
is "what's the point?" (especially as you can listen to the original series
on CD), only an incorrigible cynic would fail to be seduced by the sheer
comic gusto on offer here.
Rather than trying to ‘over-theatricalise’ the radio show, this production
(designed by Liz Cooke) lovingly re-creates the BBC Paris Studio in Lower
Regent Street, complete with a sound-effects desk and ‘Applause’ lights.
(The large video backscreen is thankfully scarcely used.) The performers,
scripts in hand, remain seated until moving downstage to the microphones to
participate in the sketches. The theatre audience, in effect, becomes the
studio audience, urged on to laugh for the benefit of the ‘radio audience’
The format is very much revue-style sketches, parodies and songs -
lightweight and not particularly subtle but linguistically inventive and
irresistibly silly. The humour is very English, a cross between the wacky
surrealism of The Goons and the smutty innuendo of the Carry On films. But
you can see its influence on contemporary comic sketch shows like The
Fast Show (which also started on radio), for example the skit
"Horne-O-Graphic Productions, in association with J Arthur Ranker, present a
Gladiatorial Epic 'Every Rome Should Have One' including the orgy scene,
banned in many countries". There are recurring characters such as the camp
icons Julian and Sandy, travelling folk singer Rambling Syd Rumpo and the
sex-obsessed Antipodean Judy Coolibah.
The cast give highly creditable impersonations of the original radio
performers. Stephen Critchlow is nicely understated as Kenneth Horne,
the straight man in every sense, whose restraint contrasts with the antics
of the colourful and cacophonous drama queens beside him. Paul Ryan has
caught many of the mannerisms of the prima donna-like Kenneth Williams -
"I need servicing!" - and bitches amusingly with the versatile Sherry
Baines (as Betty Marsden) and the vocally virtuosic Jonathan Moore
(playing Hugh Paddick), while Stephen Boswell is the plummy-accented BBC
announcer Douglas Smith. The momentum of this good, filthy fun doesn't
flag - somehow director Michael Kingsbury always keeps it up.