Live Review: The Guardian April 2015

The deluded Doncastrian just gets funnier
4/5 stars

Hexagon, Reading
by Brian Logan
Monday 20 April 2015 14.54 BST

“I didn’t get wherever I am by not knowing where I am,” says Count Arthur Strong. In fact, the Count’s confusion has propelled him – somewhat unexpectedly – to BBC1 sitcom success. Breakout telly stardom doesn’t always benefit a comedian’s live act, but this new tour sees Steve Delaney’s blithering alter ego on very fine form indeed.

Away from the TV show’s trad trappings, this is pure Count Arthur: a deluded, dyspeptic, malapropping ex-thesp from Doncaster, desperate to keep up appearances – and Cholmondley-Warner diction – as all around him crumbles.

It was painful, bordering on dadaist, when Delaney launched the character 20 years ago. It’s still tinged with agony, but I don’t remember seeing a more entertaining – funnier, more quotable, more packed with bulletproof set pieces – Count Arthur show.

Its delectable moments are too many to mention, but include the Count lay-preaching with a sermon on Alan, Evelyn and their pet snake in the garden of Edam (“where the cheese comes from”) – which he splices, much to his own bewilderment, with Little Red Riding Hood.

There’s his short play about the Beatles – his pronunciation of the word “Macca” is literally a show-stopper – and a beautifully inept stab at ventriloquism, with his doll Sulky Monkey, in ignorance of the most basic principles of how ventriloquism is supposed to work.

Frequently, the excellent writing and Delaney’s total-submersion performance (ably supported by Terry Kilkelly and Dave Plimmer) elevate proceedings to a comic state of grace, as the Count battles with his brain, his insecurities and his co-stars and staggers up ever more strangulated conceptual byways. On finding himself sneezing: “If this turns into a full bowl of cashews,” he splutters, “it could chiropodise the whole show. With my feet.” Chasing these stray connections, vaulting the chasms of logic that yawn in the Count’s wake, left me light-headed with delight.

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