Fringe Report Review 2004

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Latchmere Theatre July 04

Count Arthur Strong reflects on his life to date, as encapsulated in his new autobiography Through It All I Laughed. It’s an hour of skilful character comedy.

Doncaster bridge was the traffic-jam on the old A1 when the first Fringe companies motored from London to Edinburgh in the 1950s. Doncaster, in Private Eye‘s investigative column Rotten Boroughs, it beats the rest for local government corruption. Doncaster, as the European capital of the rope-making industry, may one day have the honour of supplying the cord that breaks Prime Minister Blair‘s neck, should he finally be executed for war crimes.

But principally, Doncaster is the place of birth and residence of Count Arthur Strong, founder of Doncaster Academy of Performance, winner of the first-ever Donnie for his expert chef programme on Doncaster Cable Vision. Tonight the Count launches his autobiography, under a sign unmistakeably advertising Book Lunch.

Count Arthur Strong wears dinner jacket, pork-pie hat, glasses, moustache, greying hair, and his customary look of exasperation. As ever, his glasses are wrong – several are found, tried, discarded. As ever, there’s a wire coat-hanger in his jacket causing discomfort. As ever, there are challengingly full glasses of wine.

Tonight, the Count compares his autobiography to that of Samuel Pepys (the Count’s is superior), Sir Isaac Newton (no comment), and Mike Yarwood (on a par). Unseen technician Duncan makes frequent mistakes, as revenge for omission from the book. These tantalise, and progressively enrage the great author.

Famous celebrities are recalled. Mathew Corbett‘s visit to the Count’s TV kitchen – with Sooty excluded on hygiene grounds; Anita Harris; HM The Queen; the Count’s awful run-in with Perry Como over their rival chart versions of She Wears Red Feathers (And a Hula-Hula Skirt); the pros and cons of working with The Worzels; Leonardo Da Vinci, and his celebrated Leaning Tower of Lisa; the Count’s work as Robin Hood. There’s a fine film of a younger Count Arthur as Sherlock Holmes tracking down Jack The Ripper.

It’s not all been easy. Almost choking, the Count’s life was saved by rapid application of The Heineken Manoeuvre. Trevor and Linda at the book’s printers make serious binding mistakes, which lead to confusion when the Count begins to read.

The delight of Count Arthur Strong lies in the characterisation. Whether he does anything, or nothing, it’s the fact of his being on stage that’s much of the humour. The inevitable degeneration into mild drunkenness, the sudden plunges into wild rage, the accumulation of simple things that must inevitably go wrong, build a crescendo of comedy joy.

John Park
reviewed Saturday 17 July 04 / Latchmere Theatre



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