Writer: Steve Delaney
Director: Graham Duff
Reviewer: Jim Gillespie
Steve Delaney matures with age. Like fine wine or the “Scottish Lucozade” with which Count Arthur Strong lubricates his evening at Salford’s Lyric Theatre. After two decades bringing the Count to life, the two grow closer in age, and Delaney becomes more totally believable as the unnatural offspring of Harry Worth and Mrs Malaprop. In the intervening years, Lord Arthur has acquired a following which might originally have been described as “cult” but which is now adulatory, to the extent that several audience members are dressed in tweeds and trilby in tribute.
In theory, the show is a tribute by Count Arthur to “one of the best musicals he can remember”. But this simply provides a tenuous structure on which to hang a series of comic episodes based on the character flaws of the failed variety performer and his hapless hangers-on. These are stalwart stooges Terry Kilkelly, as Malcolm/Renee, and Dave Plimmer as Uncle Alan. These provide foils for banter and bluster, but Count Arthur is such a well-developed creation, that he can hold court alone on an empty stage and still have the audience in hysterics.
Previous tours have leaned heavily on Count Arthur’s mental and verbal confusions, demonstrated in raconteur rants or mangled storytelling. Tonight he has more stage business and interactions to highlight his shortcomings. So the narrative thread of the Julie Andrews’ film is also a McGuffin on which Arthur can string his emphysemic karaoke rendition of Bill Wither’s “Lovely Day”, his absurd attempts at ventriloquism, his iconic take on Sherlock Holmes, and his critique of the catering at the parable of the loaves and fishes. “What has this got to do with the Sound of Music/Mucus/Mastic/Muesli?” one might ask. About as much as any of Count Arthur’s other off-piste digressions. The show has as much narrative logic as one of the Count’s circumlocutory reminiscences, and is the better for it.
There are highlights throughout the evening, and everyone will have their own favourite. The show’s opening, with the curtain refusing to rise above knee high, harked back to Morecambe and Wise. The return of glove puppet Sulky Monkey was complicated by the addition of the mummified Little King Tut, and further complicated by Count Arthur’s failure to control these creatures even with a hand up each of them. A reverie on random suffocating made a bizarre excursion from what might have been the norm, had there ever been one. The Sound of Music also yielded rich pickings, including Arthur in lederhosen duetting with a bulky Renee in peasant girl costume on “I am 16…”, and the expulsion of Maria from the monastery. If all this sound bizarre, it was.
As Count Arthur continues his progress from obscurity to national treasure, his extremely loyal fan base will afford him considerable uncritical leeway. The difficult part is to discern which parts of the supporting performance structure help to better define the Count’s absurd persona, and which are irrelevant, or even distracting and detracting. Steve Delaney has a well-honed artistic team underpinning his stage performances, and perhaps the Count should reflect with them on the parts of the stage act which add most value to the enunciation of the brand, and those which do little to move the boat faster through the water.
Reviewed on 5 March 2017 | Image: Contributed