Live Review: Northern Soul 2022

Andy Murray
May 30, 2022

Steve Delaney’s comic creation Count Arthur Strong is so unique, so distinctive and so perfectly-formed that it must be a constant head-scratcher thinking up new things to actually do with him.

At heart, Arthur is is a forgetful Northern showbiz veteran on a short fuse, perhaps best summed up by the glorious term ‘puddled’. For forays into other media – radio, TV – there’s been a careful balance between Arthur holding forth and a cast of supporting characters for him to bounce off, or simply perplex. Recent live shows have tried different approaches, from drafting in radio and TV colleagues to incorporating filmed inserts. The most recent tour, 2019’s Is There Anybody Out There?, boiled things right down, with Delaney in character alone on stage throughout, as Arthur fumbled his way through assorted scenarios and routines around the jumping-off point of astronomy. It was glorious stuff and it raised the bar high.

It’s admirable that the new tour, And This is Me!, doesn’t sit on its laurels and churn out the exact same formula. Again, it’s essentially Arthur on his tod, with routines dotted through it, but perhaps fewer of them so it’s much more a case of Arthur rambling on at length. Now, Arthur rambling on is a delight to behold but, as mentioned, it does need some careful framing to work at its best. In truth, this doesn’t always hit the heights of Is There Anybody Out There?, but it’s all relative. Maybe the flights of fancy don’t always take off with such hilarious effect, but it’s still a fine and funny show. Delaney has a great comic gift, and he could stand there and read the proverbial phone book and bring the house down. Sure enough, one of the rib-tickling moments here involves the chemical contents of Toilet Duck.

The (supposed) subject of this show, which traditionally gets abandoned before long anyway, isn’t quite clear, but really it’s just a hook to hang various daft shenanigans, from a ventriloquist interlude with ‘Old Charlie’ to a routine about the imagined joys of having a dislocatable jaw. Each half of the show ends brilliantly, whether with Napoleon writing a letter or Arthur staging a song-and-dance tribute to Elvis. Possibly the show as a whole, the first half in particular, could do with more of these little set pieces to channel what makes Arthur so funny, though.

Really, though, it’s all down to a wonderful, cherishable character doing his thing, and even if that thing has been done marginally better before now, it’s still marvellous. It’s an old-school treat for all the family – particularly fitting to the wondrous old-school environs of Stockport Plaza, in fact – and there are times when Count Arthur literally has them rocking in the aisles. Whether you’re already a fan or whether you spent the last two years longing to be back among people having a laugh, on balance And This is Me! is a absolute sodding tonic.

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