Count Arthur Strong – Alban Arena, St Albans
by Dominic Maxwell
There are more sublimely ridiculous moments in this latest show by Steve Delaney’s dilapidated old variety veteran than in any other comedy show I’ve seen this year. Granted, those highlights are surrounded by flatter moments, where Count Arthur Strong’s verbal self-sabotage gets so tortuous that you go from clutching your sides to looking at your watch.
Yet for every sequence in which this mock old-school entertainer overdoes the malapropisms there will be two more examples of set-piece silliness that defy logic yet remain true to the character’s monocular thinking.
The ventriloquism sequence, say, in which Arthur fails to throw his voice while flanked by a banana-flinging orangutan on one arm and a tiny mummified King Tut on the other, is performed with such vim that you can believe Arthur believes in it. An imagined re-creation of Jesus’s feeding of the 5,000, which ropes in Pete Murray, Bobby Crush and Sooty the bear as Judas Iscariot, is kept aloft by the combination of Delaney’s eye for an incongruity and Arthur’s dyspeptic attitude to everything except a glass of “medicinal Lucozade” (neat whisky).
The show is called The Sound of Mucus and ends with a Sound of Music sequence that needs more to propel if than just the sight of Arthur in lederhosen. And whereas Arthur’s world on his TV sitcom is fleshed out by the co-writer Graham Linehan, Delaney writing solo doesn’t want much more from other characters than to feed lines for Arthur. So Terry Kilkelly and Dave Plimmer prove game but undynamic support.
Still, there’s too much to treasure. It’s usually a joy to follow Arthur getting lost in his would-be plummy language, each sentence a retort to the one that preceded it. Could it take sharpening? It could. Is there a creation in comedy more able to take us in a phlegmy flash from the half-formed to the wholly delightful? There is not.