Ticketmaster Summer in Stages

Pete and Dud: Come Again

Chris Bartlett and Nick Awde
The Venue, Leicester Square
(2006)

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The boys have made it to the bright lights! These two critics turned playwrights had an Edinburgh hit with their play about Peter Cook and Dudley Moore. Now six months later, with a significant rewrite, they are seeking West End stardom.

The show is now very different, with the biographical format extended to 2¼ hours by a series of Pete and Dud's funniest sketches. There are also a new director, Owen Lewis, and a new Cook, Tom Goodman Hill. If the show sells, the latter's tenure will necessarily be limited by his autumn role in the year's most hyped New York transfer, Spamalot.

This casting brings Goodman Hill on stage with his co-star from Channel 4's Spoons, Kevin Bishop, reprising his Edinburgh success as Dud.

The format sees Dudley Moore, fresh from Hollywood glory as Arthur in 1982, appearing on a ubiquitous, cheesy chat show presented by Tony Ferguson (Alexander Kirk now looking like Terry Wogan but sounding more like Russell Harty).

As the interview develops, we learn that the diminutive Moore was born in Dagenham with a club foot but had a chance to go to Oxford as a pianist on a music scholarship. There he fell in with a trio and together they became famous for Beyond the Fringe. Some of Pete and Dud: Come Again's funniest moments see these boys conquering Edinburgh and then in no time the United States, where JFK and Jackie were illustrious fans.

In addition to Pete and Dud, the first flashback of many sees the versatile Colin Hoult playing Jonathan Miller and Fergus Craig as a convincing Alan Bennett providing laughs galore.

In no time, Moore was a success, with his own TV show but his perennial guest, Cook, soon demanded equal billing and Not Only But Also was born. Already, a rivalry was developing between Cook, the natural aristocrat with a penchant for booze and fags, and the Dagenham upstart who preferred innumerable blondes.

The pair continue to conquer the world until the rise reaches its zenith at the interval. Then, Peter Cook invades the Dudley talk show, as he so often disrupted his life and the slide begins. There are American performances when Cook, recently risen from a drunken stupor delays shows and even empties his stomach in the wings.

Matters only worsen as his marital problems, not to mention a sick child, cause chaos in Australia and he takes his problems out on his partner.

Eventually, and very sadly, Dud will have nothing to do with his sometimes sadistic but always patronising chum, settling for Hollywood stardom as a rewarding consolation prize.

Pete and Dud: Come Again is now a hybrid mix of TV interview, biographical flashback and reruns of comedy sketches. This can be an uncomfortable mix and in parts would benefit from a little further work.

Nevertheless, it is both poignant and funny and will have a ready-made pool of fans who will inevitably love the sketches. They will also learn how two contrasting men fed off each other so well and even how the protagonists in the funniest sketch, Derek and Clive, were born. This was the duo who, "spouting a load of old filth", were banned but as a result became a popular cult and initiated a new school of foul-mouthed comedy.

Kevin Bishop, who now sings and (apparently) plays piano with great skill, seems even better than he was in Edinburgh, at times both looking and sounding like Moore, while Tom Goodman Hill is at his best in the comedy sketches. Beyond a talent for mimicry, the strength of this pairing is a familiarity with each other that provides Owen Lewis with the gift of a team with great comic timing.

Pete and Dud: Come Again may not be quite there yet but, like Round the Horne Revisited which also managed a popular UK tour, it just might find the formula to allow a long run at the Venue.

Reviewer: Philip Fisher