Tag Archives: Joe Harmston

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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Octopus Soup!

Theatre Royal Windsor & UK Tour

Octopus Soup

Octopus Soup!

Theatre Royal Windsor

Reviewed – 1st April 2019



“In spite of the dogged efforts of the cast, the audience just didn’t get many of the jokes”


Billed as ‘an instant modern classic like ‘The Play that Goes Wrong’’, Jack Milner and Mark Stevenson’s ‘Octopus Soup!’ is a new British farce, developed and premiered by the Belgrade Theatre, Coventry, before a national tour which continues to May 4.

Where would theatre be without farce? At its best and in the hands of masters like Ayckbourn or Feydeau its ingredients are brilliant wit, sexual intrigue, and a lot of ‘business’ as comedic stereotypes get utterly confounded by impossible situations. But is the recipe right for this particular bouillabaisse?

‘Octopus Soup!’ has an accomplished and hard-working cast, admirably led by Nick Hancock, who helped to create and then presented ‘Room 101’ for seven years from its inception in 1992. He plays the risk-averse but increasingly desperate insurance man Seymour Norse who is about to make the biggest presentation of his life to the CEO of GIT, a troubled insurance company (an authoritative and satisfying performance by Gillian Bevan, who recently appeared as Theresa May in Channel 4’s ‘The Windsors’).

Before a word of dialogue is spoken, Seymour Norse has lost his trousers. A predictable enough part of the mix, but pretty wasted at the top of the show. The arrival of a blundering burglar (a smart performance by Paul Bradley) stirs up the plot, which then takes a few fishy twists before a fairly predictable ending. Norse’s nervy wife is wittily played by Carolyn Backhouse, a regular at the Chichester Festival Theatre. Eric Richard makes a satisfying appearance as a nasty underworld boss with a taste for seal sanctuaries. Terry the octopus twitches, a bullet is fired. Thanks to a well-known casserole company, which got the biggest laugh of the evening, someone is dead, or are they? So much for the slide presentation and for the plot, which stretches pretty thinly over the evening.

Actors often say that a play that seems lack-lustre one night will shine the next, simply because of the mood of one audience compared to another. I have to report that the audience in Windsor on Monday weren’t hungry for octopus soup. The fault seemed to lie not with the performances, or the set, or even the slightly dodgy sound effects, but with the writing. Many of the jokes relied on fairly improbable malapropisms of the ‘Ethics? – I come from there!’ kind. In spite of the dogged efforts of the cast, the audience just didn’t get many of the jokes, particularly in the limping first act.

The final line sank like a damp soufflé, and the cast seemed only too quick to leave the stage.


Reviewed by David Woodward

Photography by Robert Day



Octopus Soup!

Theatre Royal Windsor until 6th April then UK Tour continues


Previous shows covered by this reviewer:
Teddy | ★★★★★ | Watermill Theatre Newbury | January 2018
The Rivals | ★★★★★ | Watermill Theatre Newbury | March 2018
A Midsummer Night’s Dream | ★★★★ | Watermill Theatre Newbury | May 2018
Jerusalem | ★★★★★ | Watermill Theatre Newbury | June 2018
Trial by Laughter | ★★★★ | Watermill Theatre Newbury | September 2018
Jane Eyre | ★★★★ | Watermill Theatre Newbury | October 2018
Murder For Two | ★★★★ | Watermill Theatre Newbury | February 2019
The Trials Of Oscar Wilde | ★★★★ | Theatre Royal Windsor | March 2019


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