Evening Standard Review 2003

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Comic jewel of the Nile

Reviewed by Bruce Dessau, Evening Standard (16 May 2003)
Count Arthur Strong’s Forgotten Egypt

If there is a more bizarre character on the comedy circuit than Count Arthur Strong, then wrap me in bandages and stick me in a pyramid.

Strong, the creation of Steve Delaney, is a tuxedo-wearing Egyptologist from Doncaster, thwarted at every turn by his sound crew, his slide projector and even his falafels, which go up in smoke during the catastrophic climax of this immaculately chaotic show.

Disaster is part of the masterplan. His intended talk on the mysteries of the Nile is soon ditched in favour of showbiz anecdotes, but Strong is inexorably drawn back to Tutankhamen. Almost as much as he is drawn to the tumbler of what he claims is apple juice but behaves suspiciously like something stronger.

Exaggerating tipsiness on stage is an effective gag that stretches from Johnny Vegas to vaudevillian Jimmy James – Strong/Delaney carries off the slurring and increasingly cantankerous tantrums with stumbling aplomb.

Imagine Pooter in meltdown. One needs to buy fully into this kind of character comedy to appreciate it.

Delaney’s monster is not instantly accessible in the fashion of the Pub Landlord. The closest comparison is fellow northerner John Shuttleworth. In the same way that some people assume Shuttleworth to be simply an ill-judged singer, others may initially think that Strong is merely an incompetent lecturer and miss the point entirely.

This is comedy at its most recherche. No punchlines, but very precisely scripted, presumably including the unsettling silences that suggest some kind of inner torment. No fluff is accidental, no malapropism – “the Bard on Avon, Sir William Shakespeare” – miscued.

Last night marked the opening of the 11-day London Comedy Festival. Please support your local stand-up. Strong certainly needed support by the end of his performance. After all that so-called apple juice, the finale was much closer to fall-down comedy.



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