Written by: Dave Simpson
Directed by: Jamie Kenna
Reviewer: Simon Topping
Known as The Cheeky Chappie and famed for his risque humour and sexual innuendo, Max Miller was regarded as the greatest stand-up comedian of his generation. In his heyday in the 1930s and early 40s he was breaking box office records in the variety halls and was the highest paid live performing comic of the time; think Peter Kay, only bigger.
The play begins after Miller’s death when we find he has left £7000 (a lot of money in 1963) to his secretary, Ann Graham. Miller’s wife, Kathleen, is both puzzled and furious at this and confronts Ann as to why Miller should do such a thing. What follows is a touching, affectionate and celebratory look at Miller’s life from a young man to his death, exploring the integral roles the two, very different, women had in his world and the nature of those significant relationships on his life.
Jamie Kenna in the central role excels and a sold out, predominantly older, crowd at The Blockhouse are treated to several sections of Miller’s act and songs in-between the drama unfolding. Each set piece is performed to great applause and loud cheering. Kenna mimics Miller perfectly, it is an embodiment of the Miller persona bore from great affection for the man and his work. Kenna moves well and performs the material expertly and at high Miller like speed, with accuracy. The songs are showered with the loudest applause. Old classics such as Mary from the Dairy and The Hitch-Hiking song are greeted with roars of approval.
Outside of Kenna’s wonderful portrayal, the supporting cast prove to be every bit as entertaining, especially the two female leads. Claire Marlowe, as Kathleen, is fantastic as the loving, yet distant, wife. From a middle-class background, she is always trying to encourage her husband to appear more educated in a warm but hectoring way. In contrast Ann is a freer, more easy going type who makes Miller laugh. Louise Faulkner, as Ann, often steals scenes with her natural sincerity and marvellous comedy timing.
The rest of the cast perform well. The singing and dancing routines are upbeat, fun and sometimes poignant. Daniel Wallage particularly shines as the cabaret announcer and in his singing parts.
Dave Simpson’s story grabs the room’s attention. It is an interesting exploration of the comedian’s life, act and sexuality. Simpson adds a couple of effective scenes where Miller awkwardly discusses sex, including a very funny section where the word consummate comes up at least a dozen times, each time getting more funny than the last. And while seemingly having an eye for the ladies, Simpson makes a nod towards Miller being more of an asexual person than anything else.
Although some of Miller’s material is stuck in a bygone era, other parts land with a modern audience well, proving the minds of the public have remained just as dirty as they were eighty plus years ago.
A fabulously cheeky show; for anyone who has an interest in music hall or the human condition.
Reviewed on 8 May 2019 | Image: Contributed