Frankie Titters On
Written and performed by Paul Harris
Arlington Arts, Newbury
Frankie Howerd was a true comic genius but like his fellow comedian Kenneth Williams, this much-loved entertainer had a troubled life behind his stage persona.
Paul Harris recreates many of Howerd's routines and sketches as well as examining the actor's psyche. It is a charming captivating one- man show with Harris looking and sounding like the late great Howerd. He perfectly captured the mannerisms and catch phrases and built up a wonderful rapport with the audience - such a shame that there were not more people there to share this impressive performance.
The production starts in Heaven with Howerd explaining, " Now I've died I'd wish I'd gone down there. At least I'd be warm and could make toast whenever I wanted." It rather set the pattern for the evening!
Harris moves between performing Howerd's sketches centre stage to revealing insights into his personal life whilst seated in a large chair in his 'home.' The revelations come slowly, like pealing back the skins of an onion. He went to many auditions - "so many I didn't have time for shows."
He hated his abusive, sadistic, bullying father and, after leaving school, signed up to perform with ENSA. He was successful in gaining a 9-month tour with BBC Radio Variety Bandstand and became a star but his 1950 Royal Command Performance was a disaster and his career took a major tumble.
He suffered from depression and attended a clinic every weekend for treatment, partly because of his drive to achieve perfection. He sought solace in the church which played an important part in his early life and he was a Sunday School teacher.
He struggled with his homosexuality, often using escort agencies but had a 35-year relationship with his long-term long-suffering partner and manager Dennis Heymer. He was also a complete hypochondriac.
His future was in the ascendancy with a starring role in A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum but his life was devastated by the death of his mother and his lover Dennis.
Harris achieves a sympathetic balance between Howerd's painful personal life, stage career and eventual death. His final appearance as the vicar at the funeral was hilarious, especially at the end- but you had to be there to appreciate it!
"Titter Ye Not" was one of Howerd's catchwords but titter we certainly did and laughed out loud as well. Splendid stuff.
Reviewer: Robin Strapp