Latest 7 Review 2008

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Review: Count Arthur Strong: The Man Behind The Smile

Those who only know the Count from his successful Radio 4 show (he has been performing live at Komedia for years) might worry that the verbal gymnastics of the tongue-tied Arthur would be lost in the clutter of a staged production. And from time to time they were indeed lost in his biggest Brighton booking to date. But, on the whole, this was a cleverly conceived and smartly executed show.

The shape of the evening was a tribute to Arthur presented by the head of a Doncaster cable TV company. Silly, yes, but then why not? After all, Count Arthur is a fiction built on extreme silliness.

The stage was dressed like a TV chat show but there was no Arthur for some time, not until we heard him from the wings saying to play some music because he wasn’t ready. From then on in, the bumbling, deluded loon spoonered and malapropped his way through 70 minutes of hysterical nonsense.

Via really well executed video clips cutting vintage archive footage with new material, we saw the Count interview Sir Laurence Olivier – or Laurence of Arabia as the Count puts it – and presenting the pilot of Ask The Family before losing the job to Robert Robinson.

When he announced that he had also been in Doctor Who the audience was enthralled, only to be rewarded with a clip of a Cyberman and Arthur dubbed over moaning about being able to ‘‘see nothing in this bloody costume’’.

Such devices can only work if done well and these brilliant clips had been lovingly and flawlessly crafted. There is little denying that Arthur owes something to Harry Worth, but so few of us remember him, and of course our more relaxed attitudes allow Arthur to be truly despicable in the cause of comedy.

The running gag throughout of the theme to Robin Hood, the TV version, finally paid off with Arthur, the TV presenter and the camp and downtrodden stage manager appearing as Robin, Friar Tuck and Little John in the silliest dance ever to disgrace the stage of the Theatre Royal.

A pure, vintage delight pulled off with great aplomb.
Theatre Royal Brighton, 1 February
Andrew Kay



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