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Michael Coveney: Celia Imrie strikes out as Gerard Murphy is resting

Celia Imrie makes her 'weird and wonderful' cabaret debut at the Crazy Coqs club in London

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'Eccentric': Celia Imrie

Yesterday belonged to two shining stars of the Glasgow Citizens of 30 years ago: Celia Imrie, who launched her weird and wonderful new cabaret act in the Crazy Coqs venue at the Brasserie Zedel by Piccadilly Circus, and Gerard Murphy, who was buried with a Funeral Mass and tremendous party in Cambridge, where he lived for the last few years.

Several of us - Adele Anderson of Fascinating Aida and actresses Sian Thomas and Johanna Kirby - were in both places, on a wet and windy day; I certainly needed a good blow-through after the four-letter-word one-star horrors of Barking in Essex on Monday night, and was deeply refreshed at both occasions.

Celia calls her show, which is directed by Fidelis Morgan, Laughing Matters, drawing from a wide range of material by such diverse talents as Dorothy Parker, Lynda La Plante, Arabella Weir and Noel Coward. She is led to the stage in a strait-jacket and unravels with a rapid-fire word-play scene with a list of surprise party guests she doesn't know: Yma Sumac, Ava Gardner, Uta Hagen, Ugo Betti, the Aga Khan, introducing them to each other as Yma, Ava, Uta, Ugo, Aga and so on. No Lady Gaga, though.

That last sketch is by Annie and Hairspray author Thomas Meehan. Retrieving lost gems of the old-style revue is another task Imrie and Morgan have set themselves, evoking comedy genius Hermione Gingold with Madame La Palma, the Lady Snake Charmer; brilliant Alan Melville's snobby wittiness in "Which Witch" (an updated riposte to Kenneth Branagh); and Noel Gay's terrific finale song, "All Over the Place."

Eccentric would be one word to describe the show. Hilarious, another. I didn't quite "get" the scene with Rupert Everett face masks, and maybe the innuendo-laden cooking and gardening programme needs tightening, or cutting (or I may have still been in shock from Barking in Essex). She's not a natural singer, Celia, but she knows how to make a line sing, which is just as good a trick, and the louche haughtiness of her Miss Babs in Acorn Antiques finds perfect discharge in an exasperated phone call to the gas board and Melville's disdainful low down on the commonness of life around the Common.

Most delightfully bonkers of all, there's a song about hammers and tongs, "Blacksmith Blues," involving her two well-oiled hunky dancers and a pair of huge silver horse-shoes hung suggestively around her neck. And that Gay finale is an old Tommy Trinder item from a 1940 comedy film about three British sailors on a German frigate with a song sheet and paper matelot headgear for the audience.

The audience joined in with a vengeance. They included Joanna Lumley, Biggins, Dame Jenni Murray from Woman's Hour and a delightful couple at my table who'd come up from Eastbourne for the gig and brought me up to speed on their five local theatres. Paul O'Grady didn't show up and was much missed; his tickets could have been passed on to Peter O'Toole who - can you believe this? - had tried to get in but failed.

The magnificent Victorian Gothic church of Our Lady and the English Martyrs in Cambridge is not a small edifice. It has soaring stone arches, a nave the length of Wembley Way, beautifully preserved stained glass windows on all sides and the tallest spire in the city. Yet it was jam-packed yesterday morning with a roster of Britain's finest acting and producing talent: Simon Russell Beale, Imogen Stubbs, Joanne Pearce, Hugh Quarshie, Linda Marlowe, Sara Kestelman and Adrian Noble (just off to direct Verdi's Don Carlos for the Bolshoi in Moscow) from Gerard Murphy's days at the RSC (as well as the former RSC chairman, Sir Geoffrey Cass); and his fellow ex-Citizens Giles Havergal, Geoff Rose, Rupert Frazer, Douglas Heard, Jane Bertish, Annie Henderson, Mark Lewis, Patrick Hannaway, Oengus McNamara and Jonathan Hyde.

Nine strong men buckled under the size of Gerard's coffin, his sister, Deirdre, sang "The Rose" and recited John Dunne's "Death Be Not Proud" and his nephew Lawrence - coincidentally one of my own son's best mates - read from Thessalonians. And at the delightful champagne lunch reception in the nearby refurbished Cambridge City Hotel it was time to catch up with Frances Tomelty (one of Gerard's oldest friends from schooldays), Jennie Stoller, Haydn Gwynne (and her sister, Gerard's first agent, Pippa Markham), radio producer Ned Chaillet, playwright Ranjit Bolt and a brace of former Birmingham Rep directors, Bill Alexander and Bill Pryde. Ave atque vale, salute e addio... in all, quite a day.


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