Guardian Review 2002

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The Guardian,

You won’t see many funnier sights at this year’s fringe than Count Arthur Strong’s ventriloquism act with an Egyptian mummy dummy. But he doesn’t half make you earn the pleasure. The count – the brainchild of Steve Delaney – is an ageing doyen of British showbiz fighting a deadly battle with senility, syntax and booze, and there’s as much pathos as there is humour. It’s achingly frustrating for the count to keep losing his thread, his memory, his balance. It’s frustrating for the audience, too, because his absent-mindedness prevents this seminar on the pharaohs making any progress.

The count is a morbidly gripping comic character, and I marvelled at, and shrank from, Delaney’s hyper-tense, spluttering performance. It is as gruelling as it is grimly amusing to watch this lecture on “Egyptalogics” and light entertainment teeter ever closer to total collapse.

It is a nice detail that the count should be so obsessed with good breeding – he cannot bring himself to admit that his pal Sir Rex Harrison had proletarian roots. The count is a relic from a generation that wasn’t at ease with itself – although the clenched Delaney is so gruesomely convincing in the part, it’s hard for the audience to be at ease either. Delaney could profitably strike a compromise between the count’s frailties and the spectator’s capacity to endure them.

But it’s worth persevering. The mummy dummy’s a hoot: it can’t speak, because it’s got bandages over its mouth and its internal organs have been removed. There’s a Rex Harrison medley, plonked out on a Hammond organ; and a masterclass in Egyptian cuisine (that’s falafels, to you and me). Go to marvel at an unforgettable comic creation but be prepared to wince as often as you laugh.



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