Review Leicester Mercury: Command Performance @ Mechanics, Burnley

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Review: Count Arthur Strong’s Command Performance @ Mechanics, Burnley
By Tim Nixon

Count Arthur Strong’s Command Performance is a sort of ‘Best of Count Arthur,’ including scenes from his radio shows, some monologues, a ventriloquist routine with a miniature Egyptian mummy (you have to see it) and a big song-and-dance finale – The Windmills of Your Mind.

I like the fact that a radio character who has had hardly any TV appearances can fill a theatre, as he did the Mechanics.

I suspect that quite a lot of people find Count Arthur amusing because he is just an exaggerated version of a type of person they know in real life.

They like to laugh at a pompous old fool who has problems with his memory, constantly gets his words mixed up, and somehow manages to start an argument with everyone he meets.

But I think there’s more to Steve Delaney’s creation than that – for three reasons.

Firstly, his wordplay is not merely a series of clumsy malapropisms.

His expertly mangled sentences are works of genius (and Blackburn-born script editor Graham Duff must take a lot of credit for this). A writer must know how to phrase something just right before he can do it just wrong. It’s like Les Dawson’s piano playing, or the ‘mistakes’ in Victoria Wood’s Acorn Antiques.

Secondly, like all great funnymen, Count Arthur knows that true laughter comes from the cumulative effect of successive moments. I am always suspicious of people who laugh hysterically at the first line a comedian says. Count Arthur takes small beginnings and builds the comedy like a composer builds a crescendo. For example, he complains that “everyone these days is called Michael” and then launches into a list of famous Michaels, which turns into a list of famous people people who are not called Michael, and then somehow becomes a list of types of tree. It had me crying with laughter.

Thirdly, as a comic character, Arthur is more fully realised than any other I can think of. Some characters – John Shuttleworth is a good comparison here – are one-dimensional.

But watching the Count, you never have any notion – or even want to have any notion – of the real Steve Delaney.

Arthur is infuriating and idiotic, but vulnerable because of his many weaknesses, and therefore likeable.



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