Think No Evil Of Us - My Life With Kenneth Williams
Produced by James Seabright
Newbury Comedy Festival Newbury Corn Exchange New Greenham Arts
David Benson is well known to Newbury audiences. He wrote the pantomime Dick Wittington for the Corn Exchange's Christmas season in 1996 when he also stunned audiences in Edinburgh with his fantastic show Think No Evil Of Us - My Life With Kenneth Williams which was awarded a Fringe First that year. It has been touring ever since and continues to delight audiences.
This was a powerful, tour de force performance from an actor whose uncanny impersonation leaves you gasping in admiration.
Benson has his own 'link' with Williams since, at the age of thirteen, he wrote a story for the Jackanory Writing Competition- and won. He dreamt of having his story read on air by his hero, Spike Milligan. But to his dismay it was read by the campest man in Britain, Kenneth Williams himself.
We first meet Williams preparing himself for a poetry reading. As he recites Swinburne in a voice as rich and rounded as any Shakespearean actor, we learn that "poetry is a language to house our deepest, innermost feelings" and this theme is constantly revisited as his rollercoaster life is revealed.
Benson is simply superb as Williams; he builds up a complex, vulnerable insecure character capable of breathtaking cruelty. He retells humorous stories, juxtaposed with a burning desire to "know what we are doing here on earth; our faith in science has brought us to the abyss"
We have fleeting insights into his private life with his mother, who lived next door, and his flirtatious encounter with a young road worker.
Williams is a tortured character believing his life is worthless and he "might as well end it all" and in a theatrically clever scene is challenged by Benson and storms off stage.
What follows is a moving account of Benson's own life. His love of television comedians, superbly witnessed by him portraying the entire cast of Dad's Army, the problems with his schooldays as puberty started, his hatred of P.E. and the showers. The whole audience empathised with his hilarious characterisation of Mr Brimley, the demonic Brummie teacher demanding we all sing hymns at assembly - great audience participation, and yes we did sing! This was wonderful stand up comedy and improvisation.
But, echoing Williams, there were many tragedies, his own mentally sick, clairvoyant mother, hated by all the family, who was finally sectioned, and the need to "force himself to build a relationship, to love her", a poignant revelation.
Williams returns after the interval and the setting moves to a restaurant where he holds court. He orders everyone's food, telling anecdotes, demanding that the Americans on the next table should keep quiet and refusing to sign autographs. He is experiencing dramatic mood swings. In a fit of high temper he storms home, alone, tormented and finally overdoses. "Oh what's the use !" he exclaims.
We are left with Benson wishing he had told Williams how much he loved him. "Think no evil: we do love you all madly."
This was excellent, inspirational theatre brought to life by a consummate storyteller and thoroughly appreciated by the audience.
David Benson will be performing his latest shows Lockerbie and The Singalong Glee Club at the Gilded Balloon Teviot through out the Edinburgh Fringe.
Reviewer: Robin Strapp