Writer: Tim Whitnall
Director: Bob Golding
A Time Before Genesis. Well Fared, My Lovely. The Blade and the Passion. These may not be the first things many associate with comedian, broadcaster, and actor Les Dawson. But open a line with ‘The mother-in-law’, and audiences will already be laughing. Writing was Dawson’s flair and passion, his secret ‘hobby’ sliding in beside the charity gigs, tv shows and stand-up routines.
But after just this last gig, the real moneymaking jaunt to the US and back, the Dawson’s drema of cracking into the book market will become as much a reality as his leadership on television and game shows. Celebrating the much-missed comedian, Jon Culshaw stars in an affectionate piece which finds Dawson 68,000 feet in the air aboard Concorde, reflecting on how he goes to this lavish part of his life.
Tinkering with the piano, recounting choice tales and audience favourite routines – Les Dawson: Flying High is a pleasant hour, which while straying into the more regretful moments of his life, never ventures into heavier territory – choosing instead to celebrate Dawson’s achievements and his journey there.
The crowd was everything for Dawson. And not out of arrogance and ego, but his self-professed need to satisfy and offer affection. And Tim Whitnall’s writing incorporates this seamlessly, keeping the showbiz visage present, but breaking down the barrier with audiences used to seeing Dawson through a screen.
Culshaw captures this desire to ‘love’ the audience, to welcome them into the room and take part in Dawson’s journey. And really – there’s the draw; the magnificent way Culshaw embodies Dawson, going well above the expectations of impressionism, moving toward what many would associate as a tribute performance to an icon of screen, and yes, literature.
And though somewhat expected, there are additional transitional skits which are severely hit or miss – occasionally with an additional level of storytelling through a newscaster, or another of Culshaw’s infamous impressions, other times with a more original creation which eat up just a little too much time between bouts of Dawson. Their inclusion, while harmless, offer little to nothing in the grand scheme, if anything slowing the process.
Les Dawson was a rare entertainer. A man of extraordinary intellect who recognised the value and impact of words over fists, a man who sought to entertain and connect with the masses. Culshaw embodies this with ease, channelling a few contemporary gags in for good measure. The reverence in which Culshaw plays the role is remarkably touching, thorough and talented. For generations, Flying High is both a harken back, and contemporary treat to remember their comedy and screentime hero.
Runs at Assembly George Square until August 28 2022.