By: Arthur Smith
With the sun beating down on the new open air Warren venue, The McElderry, Arthur Smith exuberantly takes to the stage. Obviously delighted to be back in front of a live audience, Smith looks us in the eye, approvingly.
Smith is here to recount the story of his dad, Syd, who fought at El Alamein, where over 14,000 men perished, became a prisoner of war and ended up in the infamous Colditz Castle. An ordinary, yet loving, man who became a police constable in the 1950’s, but never really wanted to arrest anyone. A gentle, honest, soul who saw great hardship in POW camps, dropping to six stone at one point, but always had time for the various characters on his beat in south London. A man who smoked golden virginia, told great tales and terrible, but humorous, jokes.
The source material Smith uses is a memoir the family asked Syd to write in his 70’s. It’s a lovely book to have as a reminiscence of a life well lived and from it Smith junior tells the crowd a number of funny and touching stories from the 1940s and 50’s which have the gathering in fits of laughter, and sometimes groans, as Syd’s humour is presented, to our appreciation.
Smith, a stalwart of the 1980’s alternative comedy scene and perhaps now better known for his television voice over work and radio four appearances, is a warm and hospitable guide on this journey through his father’s life. Always at ease on stage, he paints vivid pictures of a bygone era and the tangles his dad had with drunks, strays and the odd lady, here and there, along the way.
The crowd are told a comical story about Venice, an eyebrow raising tale about Colditz and there is a touching section where Smith compares what he was doing at nineteen in France compared to his father was doing at the same age in the war.
Smith is accompanied all the way through the performance by Kirsty Newton, who enthusiastically joins in the jokes, with a few short skits, plays the piano and sings beautifully. As the night goes on there is a smattering of songs, to go along with the storytelling to illustrate Syd’s Desert Island Discs, which he included in his memoir. Newton guides Smith through the numbers, as he is not a natural singer, but does have a pleasant, deep drawl, in a Leonard Cohen style.
This is a sweet centred performance and, as the show comes to a conclusion, the audience can really sense what a lovely man Syd must have been and what a fitting tribute this is to his memory and the memory of all those around Smith that have gone but will not be forgotten.
Reviewed on 1st June