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The Theatreguide.London Review

Stop Messing About
Leicester Square Theatre      Spring 2009

A couple of years back, a stage version of the 1960s radio show Round The Horne was a modest success, and now many of the same team have reassembled with a salute to the 1970s programme Stop Messing About, which starred Kenneth Williams.

Lightning is not likely to strike again. Though the current show pastes together a 'Best Of' collection of sketches from the original scripts by Johnnie Mortimer and Brian Cooke, either something has been lost in the transfer or they weren't all that funny to begin with.

As you might expect in a script built around Kenneth Williams, the bulk of the jokes are strained double-entendres, generally with archly camp overtones, like Williams' complaint that he has to struggle to get his hands on decent parts, or an aeroplane sketch with pointed references to cockpits and joysticks.

Other gags were ancient before everyone involved in the programme was born - 'It takes three camels to make a camelhair sweater' - 'I didn't know they could knit.' - and the writers show their desperation by twice borrowing the 'Infamy' gag from Carry On Cleo.

That's not to say there aren't any decent jokes in the show. A string of mock phone-in quickies is clever, and I enjoyed a war movie spoof that included the order 'Fire at Will - he's the tall one' and a catalogue of old and rusty weapons including a dusty Springfield (Cue music).

But on the whole, the stage show makes the radio show seem to be trying too hard, and visible effort is death to this kind of comedy.

I've got several theories about why the same sort of material that was funny in Round The Horne doesn't work here, but the most likely is that Kenneth Williams was essentially a supporting player, not a star, and neither he nor his material could carry a whole show.

As with the Round The Horne salute, staging is minimal. We are in a radio studio, with the cast standing at microphones reading from scripts, the only concession to visuals being a bit of mugging.

Robin Sebastian plays Williams with oddly disconcerting restraint - if you're not going to go completely over-the-top as Williams, what's the point?

Nigel Harrison as second banana Hugh Paddick and Charles Armstrong as announcer and straight man Douglas Smith are droll, though Emma Atkins doesn't suggest Joan Sims at all.

Gerald Berkowitz

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Review of Stop Messing About - Leicester Square  Theatre 2009


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