1 Feb

by David Hampshire
at the Museum of Comedy.
A DELIGHTFUL BUT HEARTBREAKINGLY FUNNY PLAY set in a 1935 theatrical boarding house with so many characters that seem to be so familiar to a mainly show biz audience. Yes we’ve all met them, every one of them. It is good to introduce them to the world, to the jagged instability of life in the theatre.
It is written by somebody who knows them all so well. David was an Ialia Conti Child who won early fame as the title role in the TV series ‘Jennings’ and did his stint as a member of the BBC rep. On stage he was Jean Valjean in Les Mis and has spent many years touring and meeting up with all the amazing personalities of show biz. He dedicates this play to them – to Eric and Ernie, to Ken Dodd, to Brucie and Sandy Powell, but mainly to Roy Barraclough with whom he shared digs and who told him stories about the weird and wonderful people in this profession. Most of the stories too rude to include.
The actors chosen to play are perfectly cast – from the evil Charlie Prince played by Lewis Rae – a song and dance man adored by all those who cannot see his villainy, Kenneth Michaels as Norman Tate, a sad out of work comic who needs the companion of drink to take care of him while working , a divinely outrageous magician Mansel David, Nellie Price (Crissy Mullen) a nymphomaniac plate juggler, Martin Wimbush plays the distinguished Impresario Harold Chance, and looking after them all is the wondrous Joan Blackham as the landlady and her daughter Sally – a positive genius with a Victoria Sponge – played by the very pretty Georgia Riley. The whole audience – and I – fell deeply in love with David Forest as an elderly pianist who is only occasionally allowed to play his top of the pops number. ‘Don’t send my Wanda to Wandsworth’ “it has twelve verses” he proudly declaims. This is a prize winning performance – one of those raw gems that somebody – in this case David Hampshire – thought up as a diversion from the ancient humour and dramatic scenes his dignified personality was a change from all the outrageous Personality performers
The role of the only ‘straight’ actor in the piece is Hampshire himself who plays his role as movie actor and Sakespearean thesbian Laurence Mason with elegance and some pathos. But of course the evening belongs to Jane Blackham and Kenneth Michaels. who play Alice and Norman. Norman has the most wonderful collection of old jokes – probably brand new in the nineteen thirties. We see all the characters through Alice’s loving eyes.
Anyone who has ever been in ‘digs’ will recognise them. As a straight actor, he would not nornmally be in digs with the ‘variety’ people. I remember the stern segregation in the old days. Variety and Legitimates were never allowed to mix.
Times have changed so much. Television has made stars out of middle range Variety performers. Nowadays the rooms which used to be dedicated to Legits are now reserved for the TV stars..
This is a play that should be shown to the outside world – it is so indicative of how the theatre folk live and pursue their wobbly lives. I once had a landlady that stopped breakfast at eight am and switched off all the heat at ten thirty in the evening. It didn’t occur to her that we lived a completely different time scale from her usual business clients.
This play is a hilarious but important piece of literature , well observed and essential for the understanding of the audience..
“The Butcher, the Baker, The grocer and the Clark are secretly unhappy men because….(they) get paid for what they do but no applause”. Applause is what peformers live for. There is no business like it.

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