Reviewed – 12th October 2019
“an unashamed feel-good performance … a hoot”
Up Pompeii is a cult British comedy classic. Starring Frankie Howerd – in probably his most well-known and best-loved role – it ran on British television from 1969-1975, and spawned a successful spin-off film in 1971. Today’s audio revival was an affectionate homage, and an unashamed feel-good performance. There is no denying that the ribald, double-entendre-ridden campery of Up Pompeii and the Carry On films is dated, and as such now leaves many people cold. The Saturday afternoon audience at the Shaw Theatre was one of fans: of the original series, of Frankie Howerd, and of radio. As such, the performers could relax and have fun, knowing that they were preaching to the converted. And, for those who love it, it was indeed lots of fun. A hoot.
Manning the centre microphone, David Benson took on Frankie Howerd’s role of Lurcio, the savvy slave who keeps his master and mistress’ household together. It was a wonderful performance, and Benson was clearly having a ball. Known for his brilliant portrayals of Noël Coward and Kenneth Williams, he managed to capture Howerd’s trademark arch, high-camp delivery, whilst at the same time making it his own. The ad-libs (both scripted and unscripted) were delicious, and the out-take moments (‘I fucked that up last time, we’d better do that again!’) all added to the fun. The supporting cast was terrific – Jilly Breeze an unforgettable Senna the Soothsayer; Jack Lane as the callow youth Nausius; Cleo Rocos as sexpot Suspenda, Frazer Hines as the master, Ludicrus Sextus, and Barnaby Eaton-Jones (also director/producer and one of the show’s writers) as fabulously stupid Kretinus – but the afternoon belonged to Benson.
Farce of this kind relies on quickfire delivery and running gags, and becomes funnier as it builds. Benson was a masterful conductor, and led this afternoon’s audience – and his fellow cast members to boot – into a veritable crescendo of silliness. The script was a little patchy, perhaps owing to the plethora of writers whose voices helped bring it to life (this audio adaptation was written by Barnaby Eaton-Jones, with Daniel McGachy and Iain McLaughlin; adapted from the successful spin-off stage play by Miles Treddinick, and based on the original characters and BBC TV scripts devised by Talbot Rothwell and Sid Colin) but Benson’s performance energy helped paper over the cracks, and we were swept along with him when the comedy flagged.
These performances were recorded for radio to mark the 50th anniversary of Up Pompeii’s first broadcast, and will be available to download from Amazon, iTunes and spitefulpuppet.com in November. Highly recommended for Frankie Howerd fans everywhere.
Reviewed by Rebecca Crankshaw
Photography by Kim Jones
Up Pompeii; A 50th Anniversary Audio Revival will be released 29th November 2019 – click here for details