The Theatreguide.London Review
and Dud - Come Again
[DISCLAIMER: This play was written by two friends. I read the script at various stages in its development, and saw various workshop stagings. Read what follows in that context.]
SPRING 2006: After their first success as part of the Beyond the Fringe foursome, Peter Cook and Dudley Moore almost accidentally fell into a double act that extended through several TV series, stage shows and films in the 1960s and 1970s, before Moore went off to Hollywood stardom in films like 10 and Arthur, and Cook declined into alcoholism and relative obscurity.
This new play by Chris Bartlett and TheatreguideLondon reviewer Nick Awde, first seen in a shorter version at the Edinburgh Fringe last August, is both a salute to the pair and an analysis of their complex relationship. It is funny, with all the humour fans will expect, but also offers an insight into the personalities and dynamics of the pair.
The play is framed in a TV chat show in 1982, whose host asks guest Dudley the standard biographical questions, leading to a string of flashbacks. Midway through, a tipsy Peter appears in the audience and - as he had done with Dudley's first opportunity at TV stardom - turns what was meant to be a solo show into an uneasy double act.
And so we get delightful pastiches of the pair's sketches, from Beyond the Fringe through the flat-capped Pete and Dud to the scurrilous Derek and Clive, which capture the flavour so well that audiences may well think they are the originals.
But the flashbacks also show how Peter repeatedly put Dudley down while exploiting him. Indeed, one of the questions that gradually arises - to the Dudley of the frame scenes as well as the audience - is why he put up with it for so long.
The Peter of the play offers one answer - that Dudley had a martyr complex and enjoyed his suffering - but the authors subtly let us see a couple of others. The working class boy from Dagenham who only got into Oxford on a music scholarship never really believed in his good luck (thus, perhaps, the revelling in a parade of twice-his-height blondes) and perhaps never really believed he deserved better treatment from Peter.
But even more of an insight is the fact that Dudley was Peter's best audience, the only one who really understood what his weird sense of humour was doing, and thus, for much of the time, was having enough fun to be willing to put up with the annoyances.
Kevin Bishop does a fine impersonation of Dudley, complete with strangulated voice and screwed-up mouth, though he also makes it clear that a lot of that was part of the act - the offstage Dudley is much more natural. Tom Goodman-Hill embodies Peter's laid-back insouciance, though there could be a bit more of the nasty edge that was always present beneath it.
Alexander Kirk captures the oily emptiness of the chat show host, and Colin Hoult, Fergus Craig and Mark Mansfield play Jonathan Miller, Alan Bennett and a string of other roles.
Director Owen Lewis makes effective use of the Venue's odd-shaped playing space though I have my doubts about the sightlines from the side seats. The show could use a bit more tightening - there is, for example, a piano solo for Dudley that goes on too long.
And so audiences who come in expecting merely a tribute show will will be very pleasantly surprised to find considerably more going on, and will leave having laughed their fill but also thought a bit. And that's quite a nice way to spend an evening.
SPRING 2007: The canard that critics can judge others but can't do it themselves is given the lie by the continuing success of this play by my TheatreguideLondon colleague Nick Awde and Stage reviewer Chris Bartlett. This newly directed, almost wholly recast version will tour England through July 2007.
In part a tribute to the double act of Peter Cook and Dudley Moore, still revered as a touchstone in British comedy, in part an analysis of their troubled relationship, the play should atttract audiences wanting a Good Night Out and those wanting something meatier - and give both what they're looking for and more.
Using a 1970s TV chat show as the frame for a string of flashbacks, the play traces the odd couple relationship of the puppy-dog working class lad delighted with unexpected stardom and the aristocrat whose mask of laid-back wit barely covered a real disgust with a lot around him and with himself.
As with many double acts, much of Pete and Dud's comedy was built on Peter insulting or frustrating Dudley, but the onstage laughs reflected a real imbalance in their offstage relationship, and a central question of this play is why Dudley put up with it so long.
In the play Peter calls him a masochist, but the playwrights see something much more complex, including the insight that Dudley really got Peter, that he saw and appreciated his skewed sense of humour better than anyone else, and that sheer admiration and enjoyment carried him over a lot of the rough patches in their partnership.
But the play also shows how and why Dudley had to break away, moving on to a career of Hollywood stardom just as Peter - surely not coincidentally - began the slide into alcoholic self-destruction.
Along with this convincing and dramatically satisfying psychological insight, the play offers glimpses into the comic stylings of the pair, in newly-written routines that so successfully capture the sound and feel of the originals that some of the London critics actually credited them to Cook and Moore rather than Bartlett and Awde.
This new touring production is in some ways superior even to the London version, the script trimmed and tightened up, the new direction by Owen Lewis nicely balancing comedy and drama. Simon Lowe as Dudley and Gareth Tunley as Peter wisely don't attempt simple surface impersonations, but capture the essence of the two men, and Alexander Kirk, the one holdover from the West End, has the oily insincerity of the TV chat show host down pat. William Belchambers, Phillip Langhorne, Mark Fleishmann and Asa Joel play Jonathan Miller, Alan Bennett and Everyone Else.
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Review - Pete and Dud - Venue 2006