Frankie Howerd like many comedians was a very complicated man – he was also gay and, having grown up when it was against the law to have sex with another man, trapped in the closet for almost all of his life. Mark Farelly has told his story by presenting it through the thoughts of his long time companion, chauffeur, secretary, you name it, Dennis Heymer, a sommelier he met and lived with for decades. Howerd’s ghost appears to Heymer who is drinking and looking back on life on the last day of opening the home they shared for the last time. It was a popular place with Howerd’s fans. Farrelly gives a nuanced performance as the complicated bi-sexual Heymer who really wanted to be loved but could never get Howerd to fully accept they were a couple, all the complexities of his character, abuse as a child, and his doubts about his talent to amuse coming in the way. The ghost, a skillfully done recreation of the man by Simon Cartwright, has come to make things right and the result – there is a lot of audience interaction and some of Howerd’s stand up is recreated – is touching, very funny and rewarding. There was a lovely moment, a Howerd one, the night I saw it when Cartwright hands a jacket to a member of the audience to hold and asks who he is, and then, importantly, where he comes from. The young man replied Turkey. “Ah, delight” cried Howerd getting on with the oohs and the ahs and the titters you not. Farrelly makes the perfect straight man and he has come up with a piece which may play a little fast and loose with the facts – after Howerd died he did find another companion – it remains a hugely entertaining evening and one with something to say worth saying.
Simon Cartwright: Frankie Howerd.
Dennis Heymer: Mark Farrelly.
Director: Joe Harmiston.
Image: Jackie Summerfield.