Reviewer: Jo Beggs
Griff Rhys Jones says he doesn’t like going to parties, which is strange because coming out of this show feels just like leaving one – a party full of middle-aged friends at which the jovial host has shared some funny stories and you’ve all been pleasantly reminded of things that happened, and people you knew, 25 years ago.
Jones and Smith sees Griff Rhys Jones in a reflective mood. Now in his early 60s, he reflects on his working relationship with Mel Smith, the heady days of alternative comedy, the ground-breaking Not The Nine O’Clock News and, of course, fourteen years of their hugely popular BBC sketch show Alas Smith and Jones.
This is an entertaining show for Mel and Griff fans. Rhys Jones an amiable and sincere man with plenty of good anecdotes. Roaming about the stage or perched on a solitary stool, he warms up considerably after 10 minutes of rather pointless banter about Salford and other, less salubrious tour venues. As soon as he launches into stories about Mel he seems more at home with his material and his memories. Smith, he says, drew people he met into his crazy world of booze and parties, gambling and staying out all night. While Smith was able to do this pretty endlessly, Rhys Jones found himself having to draw a line under the celebrity lifestyle after only a few months, and from then on became the sensible one. If this was ever a source of frustration it doesn’t show. Rhys Jones talks about those days with a generosity of spirit that seems to reflect the relationship the two men had throughout their many years making comedy together.
Mel’s untimely death in 2013 has perhaps set Rhys Jones thinking about mortality. He shares the details of his regular exercise regime, promotes running and weights for the over 50s, and bounds about the stage proving that a healthy lifestyle is paying off. While Mel lived for the moment, Griff feels as though the rug is being pulled from under him, that the bucket list gets longer as the time ticks by ever faster.
It’s not, perhaps, a new preoccupation, though. In the second half, Rhys Jones screens a few scenes from a sitcom pilot Three Flights Up that the pair made shortly before they went their separate ways professionally. It’s a typical sitcom scenario where the two deal with a ludicrous situation, as a plumber, called in to fix the heating, dies in their office. It’s a funny situation comedy but there’s plenty of musing on creeping mortality and the need to make the most of the time we have. Rhys Jones reveals that the sitcom got dusted off when they were looking for material for Mel’s memorial service, but that, having watched it again they felt it inappropriate for the situation. Mel, though, he says, in perhaps the most indicative comment of the evening, “wouldn’t have given a toss”.
Timing is everything in TV, though, and Mel and Griff’s moment had passed. Three Flights Up was never broadcast. It was a comedy partnership that quietly dissolved as other things took up their time. Mel Smith always thought, Rhys Jones says, that the pair would get back together to tour, something that sadly never happened before Mel’s death. Jones and Smith is an attempt to try to make up for the lack of a live reunion, and goes some small way to doing it.
Reviewed on 19 November 2016 | Image: Contributed