Thursday, 18 September 2014

Seriously Funny - a new play about Tony Hancock and Kenneth Williams by Iain Barton and Wink Taylor

One never knows with a new play whether it will live up to hopes and expectations, this one did.

Playing someone well known can be difficult - the danger is looking like a shop mannequin rather than a Madame Tussaurd look alike

Iain Barton was great as Tony Hancock - he had the full rang of Hancockian facial expressions, voices and was always in character. Wink Taylor was so like Kenneth Williams it was uncanny.

The play is partly a run through some of the funniest sketches from Hancock's Half Hour - as Kenneth appeared in only 6 TV episodes only one of which survives as a recording, the sketches are bar one from the radio HHH.

Spoiler - skip this paragraph if you don't want to know what episodes - ok your still reading so her they are: The Alpine Holiday, the test pilot sketch,  the television set, the conjuror, Hancock in the Police, the wild man of the woods, the Ralph Reader Gang Show.

The sketches are occasionally adapted for the play with a few new jokes and some great ad libs were thrown in in response to the audience. The audience loved it, even though many probably knew the sketches by heart - seeing Wildman of the Woods acted out was just hilarious.

The play also covers the off-mike relationship between Tony and Kenneth - their initial friendship, the discussions about the nature of comedy, the discussions on philosophy and religion and the meaning of life, the falling out over the "Snide" character - Kenneth's best known voice and the one that made him a star. Hancock said Snide wasn't real life - Kenneth is the play points out that it was an exact copy of the voice of someone he met in real life !  At some points Kenneth acts as a narrator for events in Hancocks life, but this comes across as if he was talking on a chat show or to his diary not as exposition. The play recreates the desperate phone calls from Hancock to try and get Kenneth to take part in his disastrous show at the Festival Hall, Wink Taylors performance of the sadness and anger Kenneth must have felt is fantastic.  The play lasted just over 30 minutes for the first act and about 40 minutes for the second with an interval in between.

It is very sad to think both of these comedy geniuses committed suicide.  As the story goes - the Dr says to the patient go and see Groc the greatest clown ever, he will make you feel better, and the patient bursts into tears and says - but Dr, I am Groc.

The play made me think about Kenneth Williams, who rightly complained in his diaries that he had all the disadvantages of being a star but none of the money. His career is seen as being stuck in a  rut with ever worsening Carry Ons, but actually - many of the Carry On's were very good films, at least up to 1970's Carry on Henry.  Outside the Carry On's he had  a career many people would have relished - from jack-a-nory to chat show host, author and radio star - and these don't seem to be so acknowledged.

While he occasionally yearned to be given more serious parts, on stage at least Kenneth could often not resist doing the funny voices and cheap laughs.  It is a great shame the film was never made to go with his amazing performance of a diary of a madman - perhaps he would have got some better offers  listen to it here

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