Writer/Director: Jim Cartwright
Reviewer: Ron Simpson
It is a wonderful achievement for a theatre of the size of Wakefield’s Theatre Royal to have companies devoted to the work of playwrights as popular and successful as John Godber and Jim Cartwright. Moreover, these are playwrights who can guarantee a succession of entertaining premieres which they can direct themselves and which, in their cast size and production demands, are well suited to touring small to medium-sized theatres.
So the debut of the Jim Cartwright Company, with a tour of short runs at 12 venues to follow, has to be good news. Stand Up Stand Up proves to be anything but easy to evaluate, but, in a mood of accentuating the positive, it is certainly an entertaining couple of hours and Chris Hannon and Andrew Westfield give terrific value.
Colin (Hannon) is struggling as a stand-up comedian, a career in his family’s hardware business increasingly likely. His debts mount until a bailiff, Biff, comes to his flat to seize possessions. Biff (Westfield), it turns out, is devoted to the idea of becoming a comedian, partly because he has lost access to his cherished daughter as he is too serious and scary. Colin’s lack of real success has something to do with his inability to stand up for himself, so, after Biff loves Colin’s set at the local comedy club and the two men get wildly drunk together, a deal is made. Colin will train Biff in stand-up, Biff will show Colin how to stand up for himself – hence Stand Up Stand Up.
What happens next makes for a pretty flimsy play. In the last 30 or so years, plays about groups of people excelling at something they have little ability for have become very popular, but here there is no steady progress towards the goal, as in, for instance, John Godber’s Up ‘n’ Under or Richard Harris’ Stepping Out. We know there will be a happy ending of some sort because this is feel-good theatre, not because there is any likelihood of it.
However, Jim Cartwright has often delighted in creating opportunities for his casts to excel, to do a splendid theatrical turn – think, for instance, Little Voice. Right from the start it happens here. One of Colin’s failings is his lack of a comedic personality, so Chris Hannon gives us an anthology of old gags, all sharply delivered, some still very funny, in various styles, his default position somewhere east of Lee Mack. A sizeable chunk of the second half is devoted to Chris’ fantasies about the Fabled Fountain of Funnies which enables Hannon and Westfield to do the Laurel and Hardy dance from Way Out West or their Benny Hill version of that famous Shakespearean stage direction, “Exit pursued – bare!”.
The only dramatic justification for such nonsense is that is great fun – and it is!
And Hannon and Westfield are spot on in their comedy, whether it’s Hannon tongue-twisting his way through a word-splitting routine or Westfield, a sizeable chap, trying a touch of ballet.
Jim Cartwright’s production team includes a choreographer, but no designer. He takes the no-set-no-props principle to its logical conclusion, but Andrew Pickersgill’s lighting and sound design makes its mark slickly and dramatically.
Touring nationwide | Image: Amy Charles Media