Ticketmaster Summer in Stages

Stop Messing About

Brian Cooke and Johnnie Mortimer
Darlington Civic Theatre and touring
(2010)

Production photo

Perhaps I’m just jaded by General Election fatigue, but as Stop Messing About got underway at Darlington Civic Theatre, I could have sworn that David Cameron, Nigel Farage from UKIP and Jeremy Paxman took to the stage for a game of alpha-male political ping-pong. Jolted back to my senses, I realised that it was by pure coincidence that Charles Armstrong, Robin Sebastian and Nigel Harrison bear uncanny resemblances to the afore-mentioned politicians and interviewer!

That moment of madness having been resolved, I settled back to watch the show. Essentially, Stop Messing About is born of a simple – or perhaps lazy? – concept. It is a theatre show that recreates the recording of two episodes of the radio sketch show series that starred Kenneth Williams, Joan Sims and Hugh Paddick.

Liz Cooke has designed a set that is authentically evocative of a BBC recording studio, complete with light-up ‘Applause’ signs and lollipop microphones, which goes quite some way to help the nostalgia start to flow.

The cast, led by the brilliantly talented Robin Sebastian as Kenneth Williams, are top-notch throughout and there is a fantastic sense of camaraderie between them. Although, as hard as they work, India Fisher (Joan Sims) and Nigel Harrison (Hugh Paddick) are far outshone by Sebastian’s uncanny impersonation of the legendary Williams. Everything about his performance is perfect – the facial expressions, the mannerisms, and, most importantly, the voice.

The script, penned by Brian Cooke and Johnnie Mortimer, is peppered with double entendres and littered with cliché, but that, as well as being all part of the fun, is synonymous with Williams’s trade-mark Carry On style humour. Despite some wonderful one-liners, it is the stuff that generates chuckles rather than belly laughs, though.

Whilst I do acknowledge the many strengths of this production – the performances, direction, set design and script being amongst them – I cannot understand why the producers believe that a piece of entertainment which was intended for the radio audiences of the 1960s would lend itself to theatre audiences in the twenty-first century. Answers on a postcard, please?

Kevin Quarmby reviewed this production at the Leicester Square Theatre and and Sheila Connor reviewed the touring production in Guildford

Reviewer: Steve Burbridge