Gig review from Dave’s Leicester Comedy Festival
Review by Steve Bennett
14th February 2015
More people than ever are aware of Count Arthur Strong now he’s on BBC One, but there is nothing quite like seeing the shambolic old cove live and unadulterated… a word his confused brain struggle to cough out.
His new tour incorporates some overambitious set pieces – although even delivering a simple message of introduction is overambitious for the senile duffer. The finale’s from a Beatles musical he knocked up, despite a few gaps in his knowledge (‘Why did no one tell me they were from Liverpool?’); he attempts a duet with Renee, who usually works in Las Vegas (not that one); and when a backing track fails he decides to have a bash at the piano, with results that make Les Dawson sound like Rachmaninov.
But it’s not his struggles against the bigger production numbers that provide most of the biggest laughs, essential though they are for the structure of the show. No, it’s the Count’s spluttering battles with both the English language and his own brain that reach magnificent levels of hilarity.
The character, which Steve Delaney has developed over 20-plus years, is a fully developed, nuanced, idiot. It’s not just the malapropisms and Alzheimer memory failures that are funny – it might be cruel if it were – but because the Count is so pompous, proud and superior, plummily rolling his vowels in an ineffective attempt to sound posh – that much of the joke is in the vast gulf between his self-image and reality.
Everyone else, in his eyes, is a blithering incompetent worthy of his scorn, while he’s often blind to his own, monumental failings. When he offers a comprehensive list of nuts – a moment arrived at by typically tortuous train of thought – it spins and twists in all sort of unconscious, freeform directions before coming back on itself. Count Arthur rarely makes a mistake that doesn’t lead to a dozen more, escalating the situation perfectly. And the payoff to this nuts routine is a preposterous misunderstanding of words of which Abbot & Costello would be proud, one of many throwbacks to the spirit of music hall that help set the show’s tone.
But then sometimes he is acutely aware of his difficulties, and the side of his mind dealing with the here and now becomes increasingly impatient with the memory banks that are letting him down, getting as frustrated with himself as he does with others.
In Somebody Up There Licks Me (it seems Count Arthur is using the same misprint-prone proof reader as John Shuttleworth) the others come in the form of his long-suffering stage manager Malcolm (Terry Kilkelly, who also doubles as the delightful Renee) and slight-of-build technician (Dave Plimmer), in overalls and carrying an old-fashioned oilcan, channelling the spirit of Norman Wisdom’s Pitkin.
In his solo spots, the bewildered thespian attempts a comedy routine (‘Any idiot can do stand-up’), a sermon that mangles the story of ‘Alan and Evelyn’, and – most brilliantly of all – attempts a ventriloquist act with Sulky Monkey that befuddles his brain even more than usual. Nina Conti needn’t lose much sleep over the competition.
The show is a shade on the long side, a consequence of it needing to be a full night’s entertainment, but there are certainly more than enough peaks of stupid hilarity – unique but rooted in a strong variety-hall tradition – to guarantee a great time.