Round the Horne - Unseen and Uncut!

Written by Barry Took and Marty Feldman
Yvonne Arnaud Theatre, Guildford, and touring

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Round the Horne was a phenomenon in the swinging sixties - a show which even today has a host of loyal fans - and a whole new generation have cottoned on to the fact that this show, with its weird surreal humour and its multitude of double-entendres, is one of the cleverest and funniest (as well perhaps as one of the zaniest) ever written. Just envisage the names of some of the characters represented - J. Peasmold Gruntfuttolk, Dame Celia Molestrangler and Rambling Syd Rumpo and you get an idea of the concept, and when the two ‘resting‘ actors Julian and Sandy make their very camp appearance, there is a collective sharp intake of breath from an audience, knowing what to expect and anticipating with delight. An exceptionally well chosen cast transport us back to the studio where the show was recorded every Sunday. At the time this was compulsive listening and a nation, with little access to recording equipment, stayed home to listen, numbers regularly totalling over fifteen million - more than any radio programme before or since.

Richard Baron’s direction keeps the pace fast, very fast, and one sketch follows another, practically stumbling over it in its haste to be heard, so concentration is needed to detect every one of the cheeky subversive sexual innuendoes, often outrageous but so brilliantly conceived that the strict and staid BBC of the time (known then as ‘Auntie’) didn’t seem to notice them. Last night’s audience most certainly did, and appreciated every one. Originally a radio show, but the visual aspect works even better with the set arranged as a recording studio and the cast acting out their roles very expressively, scripts in hand adding to the authenticity.

The character everyone recognises is Kenneth Williams from his many appearances in the Carry On films, and Robin Sebastian (reprising his West End role in a very finely judged performance) does him justice, emulating his neighing laugh, his petulant attitude and his mannerisms to perfection. His ‘jockey’ too has to be seen to be believed. Don’t ask - go see!

Jonathan Rigby (also reprising his role) is avuncular and relaxed as Kenneth Horne, keeping some sort of command over the proceedings, and Sally Grace’s Betty Marsden is truly amazing as with the myriad of outrageous characters performed she somehow manages to make every one believable ---- believe it or not!

David Delve opens the show as High Paddick (don’t sit in the front row without a macintosh for this one), Michael Shaw is Bill Pertwee, and Stephen Boswell as announcer Douglas Smith does his best to produce the required animal noises, but only manages sheep.

The six piece Horn Blowers Big Band are on stage throughout, supplying the musical interludes and accompanying Chris Coleman, Deborah Crowe, Samuel Holmes and Nathan Taylor who are ‘Definitely Not the Fraser Hayes Four’ (the original quartet) but they certainly know how to put over a song - popular music from the period in the old-fashioned style, and I don’t have any problem with that.

This brand new production, featuring material not seen on stage before, is drawn from the first three series, and has the full support and approval of the estates of the writers, as well it might seeing how it ‘perfectly captures the spirit and charm of the original’ - truly hilarious!

Touring to - Richmond, Malvern and Windsor

Reviewer: Sheila Connor

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