Writer: Jim Dale
Director: Richard Maltby Jr
Reviewer: Maryam Philpott
It’s not often a star gets a near standing ovation at the start of their show but the cacophony of applause that greets Jim Dale as he first appears on the Vaudeville stage is some indication of how much the one-time Carry On star is still loved in his native land. And this rapturous homecoming is a fitting start to a joyous evening of anecdotes, songs and memories from Dale’s sixty years of making people laugh. Just Jim Dale: Still Carrying On transfers to the West End for a short time having already won an Outer Critics Circle Award for its New York run, adding to Dale’s already heaving trophy cabinet that contains Tony and Critics Circle Awards as well as BAFTA and Oscar nominations.
Although Dale may still be best known in the UK as a member of the Carry On team, this show touches on his career milestones from early music hall appearances, through a brief stint as a singer then moving into acting both on stage and screen, before becoming the narrator of the Harry Potter audiobooks in America. It covers a lot of ground in two hours but Dale’s wonderful rapport with the audience feels like being wrapped in a warm blanket and you’ll want to stay and listen to his stories all night.
As all good memoirs do, Dale begins with his childhood regaling the audience with tale after hilarious tale about his early attempts to entertain his family and recreation of his early ballet lessons which made him the ‘Billy Elliot’ of his town. In his late teens, Dale recalls, he auditioned for the musical hall and ‘like a burglar, breaks into show-business’. Each tale is evocatively told or re-enacted brilliantly drawing the viewer into the past with him, and as well as the desire to make people laugh, the accidental nature of Dale’s career comes through as mishap leads to opportunity and development.
The vaudevillian nature of this show allows Dale to display his wider talents, interspersing songs from his appearance in musicals including Me &My Girl and Barnum, with monologues from more serious plays including a Noel Coward and Peter Nichols Joe Egg involving a wonderful piece of audience interaction leaving everyone with their hands on their heads. Particular highlights include Dale miming outrageously to his own pop songs sung by his 22 year old self, and a clever skit on Shakespeare phrases that have made it into everyday use.
After the interval the Carry Ons finally make a brief appearance with a couple of impressions of Kenneth Williams and for the press night audience at least a little banter with Barbara Windsor who was in the stalls and who Dale hadn’t seen for 46 years. Towards the end the show links back to its musical hall beginnings to examine where Dale found over 200 voices for Harry Potter, and a hysterical dramatisation of his first attempt to record them which is not dissimilar to Lina Lamont’s microphone issues in Singing in the Rain.
Just Jim Dale is a cheeky dash through decades of showbiz tales led by Dale’s own engaging approach that is firmly tongue-in-cheek as you hear one ‘almost true story’ after another. There may be less Carry On tales than some may hope but you’ll have a smile on your face throughout, and the friendly intimacy Dale creates will make you long for cabaret tables and cocktails when shows like this were more commonplace. His UK audiobook comparator Stephen Fry may be most people’s fantasy dinner party companion, but with no doubt a wealth of stories yet untold Dale should be on the invite list too. The show ends with a genuine standing ovation and one thought, Carry On Jim Dale, Carry On.
Runs Until: 20 June
You can read our interview with Jim Dale here