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Howerd's End

Howerd’s End


Golden Goose Theatre

Howerd's End

Howerd’s End

Golden Goose Theatre

Reviewed – 29th October 2020



“merges a fascinating exploration into a secret and devastating relationship with an exciting throwback to classic comedy”


Frankie Howerd is no doubt one of Britain’s best loved comedians, his comic career spanning six decades in the twentieth century. Most Brits can’t help but titter (pardon the pun) at the comedian’s endless stream of double entendre, and his distinctive cries of ‘no missus’ and ‘please yourself’ are instantly recognisable.

However, despite his incredible notoriety, Howerd led an extremely private life, hiding his potentially career-destroying homosexuality from both his audience and his mother. Recent documentaries have shed a light on his personal relationships, most notably, his four-decade-long love affair with his manager Dennis Heymer. Howerd’s End, directed by Joe Harmston, explores their tumultuous relationship through the eyes of Heymer, whilst also affording a glorious opportunity to encounter Howerd in full-flight stand up mode.

The play begins with Heymer (Mark Farrelly), now well into his 80s, welcoming the audience to their tour of Wavering Down, the Somerset home Heymer shared with Howerd until his death in 1992. Heymer laments the unspoken words between him and his late partner and wishes they had had more time together. Luckily for Heymer, the ghostly spirit of Howerd (Simon Cartwright) soon appears before him, cracking jokes and delivering bumbling prose as in his prime.

What follows is a selection of key moments in their relationship, from the pair’s initial meeting at the Dorchester Hotel where Heymer was a Sommelier to Howerd’s therapy room where he was plied with LSD to cope with his depressive state. The audience is shown a very different side to Howerd’s stage persona, instead encountering a man who is deeply unhappy and the consequent destruction he wreaks on those close to him.

Cartwright does a fantastic job at mimicking Howerd’s iconic mannerisms, from his pursed lips to his twitching hands. The snippets of stand-up that he delivers are some of the best scenes in the show, and his playfully teasing back and forth with the audience is excellent. Farrelly is compelling as the conflicted but devoted partner, and moves between several different roles, including Howerd’s therapist, with ease.

After a whistle stop tour of the pair’s relationship, the play dissolves into philosophical musings about life’s purpose and the tired trope of the unhappy clown. Though clearly applicable to the situation, these conclusions are brought to the forefront with no degree of subtlety and would have been better received had they naturally arisen from scenes between the clashing couple. Furthermore, it would have been a welcome contrast to see Howerd and Heymer in private, when their relationship was young, to invest the audience fully in their downward spiral.

The set is nicely decorated, with a red chair and pouffes placed around a fireplace and a portrait of a young Howerd decorating the overmantel. The sound design is very well-done, with sound effects of lighters flicking over and drinks being poured perfectly timed to the action on stage. The lighting is strong too, cycling through different colours and intensities to match the mood of any given moment.

Howerd’s End merges a fascinating exploration into a secret and devastating relationship with an exciting throwback to classic comedy. However, the addition of more personal scenes, rather than grand philosophical musings, would not go amiss.



Reviewed by Flora Doble

Photography by Steve Ullathorne


Howerd’s End

Golden Goose Theatre until 31st October


Previously reviewed at this venue:
Living With the Lights On | ★★★★ | October 2020


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Howerd’s End



by Mark Farrelly

March 6, 2017 marks the centenary of the birth of a comedy legend: Frankie Howerd, who was and still is “one of Britain’s best-loved comedians”.

A radical, whose courage and innovation as a performer have too often been obscured by cosy nostalgia, he was the first stand-up to dispense with conventional punchlines and slick patter, instead crafting stumbling, surreal streams of insecurity, based on his sense of inadequacy, disappointment and sheer unsuitability to the very job of being a comedian. In his refusal to ‘do’ comedy like everyone else had done, he paved the way for other non-conformists like The Goons, Monty Python and Eddie Izzard.

Set in the living room of Wavering Down, the Somerset home of Howerd and Dennis Heymer, Howerd’s End, is a punchy, passionate, revealing two-handed drama. It explores through a series of flashbacks the development of Howerd’s style of comedy – from his first appearance on the BBC radio programme Variety Bandbox in 1947 to his final performances in the 1990s when he had a reinvention as a cult godfather of stand up. 

The play also shines an unflinching spotlight on the clandestine union which made Frankie’s big dipper of a career possible: his extraordinary 35-year relationship with his lover, Heymer, a wine waiter Frankie met in 1958 at the Dorchester Hotel while dining with Sir John Mills. Howerd was 40 and Heymer was 28. He would go on to become Howerd’s manager and anchor, but his existence was strictly guarded from the public, not least because for many years the relationship was illegal and the couple feared blackmail if anyone beyond their immediate circle found out.

Howerd’s End also shows the other cost of fame – Howerd’s neurosis, his unfaithfulness and use of LSD that pushed his career and relationship to the brink of destruction. It also highlights Heymer’s struggle: seemingly content with coming second, yet yearning to hear how much he was appreciated, and wondering if the love into which he had deeply fallen was, in truth, unrequited.

More than simply a tribute show about a comedian who outlasted them all, Howerd’s End is also a piercingly honest love story about a relationship that tried to defy every odd – including death. Above all, the play confronts every human’s toughest challenge: letting go.


Howerd’s End

Greenwich Theatre from 12th September


Tickets available from 7th March




Details of a short UK tour will be announced shortly

Full casting and creative team to be announced