STOP MESSING ABOUT
by Johnnie Mortimer and Brian Cooke.
Tour to 20 June 2010.
Runs 1hr 40min One interval.
Review: Timothy Ramsden 17 April at Royal and Derngate (Derngate auditorium) Northampton.
Comic nudges and winks from radio times.
Back in innocent days when Camp Smut dangled its enticements weekly into British living-rooms, its ruderies barely concealed under the transparent veil of BBC radio respectability, writers Brian Cooke and the late Johnnie (not to be confused with the late John) Mortimer served-up half-hours of non-stop suggestive gags tailor-made for the solid figure of Hugh Paddick, the tingling treble of ladylike Joan Sims, and, above all, the mercurial Kenneth Williams.
This stage reincarnation adds period fascination, being set in a radio-theatre with on-stage sound-effects man, microphones and flashing Applause prompts. Williams did the warm-ups and, interestingly for a radio series, programmes opened with a joke in silhouette – visual equivalent of voices from the void.
After which, all was familiarity, sketches zipping past in a kind of aural Carry On. Though Messing didn’t carry on very long: just two series (the second with a different scriptwriter) as the sixties became the seventies.
For it lacked Kenneth Horne, whose long-running Sunday lunchtime series, Beyond Our Ken and Round the Horne, were anchored by his cheery common-sense confidence, a tower of middle-class respectability apparently unaware of the entendres Williams, assisted by Paddick, kept doubleing all around.
This programme picked up the pieces after Horne’s death, just as Michael Kingsbury’s format retains that of his earlier theatrical Cooke-Mortimer compilation Round the Horne…Revisited, playing as two apparent complete episodes with musical interludes excised.
Robin Sebastian transfers from Horne with every Williams facial and vocal flicker intact, a suited presence with self-announcing nose, hairpin smile and shocked eyes, the voice rising excitedly or plummeting to sudden horrified depths. India Fisher’s smartly-dressed Sims seems all motherly innocence, as if apple-pie wouldn’t melt in her mouth.
Her occasional flirtations with Douglas Smith’s BBC Announcer, repeatedly trying to get in on the act, are deftly done while Nigel Harrison’s ever-ready Paddick is equally spot-on.
Why, though, do they keep swapping microphones? If Kingsbury continues through great radio catchphrases of the last century – and what but copyright could stop him? – he might go beyond replicating programmes to exploring the work in rehearsal and the stories behind the (oft-swapped) mikes.
Kenneth Williams: Robin Sebastian.
Douglas Smith: Charles Armstrong.
Hugh Paddick: Nigel Harrison.
Joan Sims: India Fisher.
Sound Effects Man: Timothy Dodd.
Director: Michael Kingsbury.
Designer: Liz Cooke.
Lighting: Tony Simpson.
Sound/Music: Rod Anderson.