Live Review: The Recs 2024

Leicester Square Theatre 14/04/2024 . The Recs review by Steve Coats-Dennis

With his “And It’s A Goodnight from Him” tour, Count Arthur Strong joins the hallowed ranks of Frank Sinatra (aka “Frank Satsuma”), Kiss and Cher as artists for whom their farewell tour might not actually be their last. Not that a doyen of light entertainment would attempt to mislead his fiercely loyal fans. Following the advice of leading medical specialists, St Anne’s Jombulance Brigade and Professor Twitty who did the Covid, the much-loved showbiz “bon vivre” has embarked on his farewell tour. Part one of an as-yet-unspecified number of farewell tours.

If you are not familiar with Arthur from the seven series and Christmas Specials of his BBC Radio 4 sitcom or his three series on BBC television or his multiple theatrical tours…where have you been? Created by Steve Delaney in the 1980s and launched upon an unsuspecting public in the ’90s at the Kings Head, Crouch End, Count Arthur Strong is essentially a rarely-employed but indomitable variety entertainer from a bygone era. These days, Arthur is a little bit…dotty!

Wildly eccentric, pedantic and strangely belligerent, Count Arthur Strong is a character-comedy creation entirely unique and idiosyncratic. When you think of other successful character comedy acts, like Dame Edna, Alan Partridge, Myra DuBois, they all have rather detailed back-stories and lore built up over the years. With Strong, the vagueness about who he is reflects, in a rather meta way, the rather foggy view that Arthur has of the world.

It is striking that while the audience for And It’s Goodnight from Him at Leicester Square Theatre was packed by ardent fans, it would be perfectly easy, even if you had never seen Count Arthur before, to watch this tour and not feel left out. No prior knowledge is required because the character lives in the moment – albeit a rather blurred, perplexing moment.

Despite playing to a generally older demographic, Strong sets the scene with a sui-generis rendition of P!nk’s Get The Party Started that won’t easily or quickly be forgotten.

With his fondness for spoonerisms, malapropisms, mangled syntax and bewildered tangents, Count Arthur Strong is a swirling Charybdis of comedic confusion, befuddlement and flights of fancy. Pondering timeless questions like why The Elephant Man couldn’t be more like Tarzan or Dumbo or regaling us with hilarious tales of the fire brigade, the Post Office and the stuck-up new vicar persecuting him, it’s easy to see why Strong has earned a formidable reputation as a wreck on tour. Sorry, raconteur! He’s got me at it now.

Watching Count Arthur live really shows what a master of his craft Steve Delaney is. To get things wrong so perfectly at speed shows an incredibly mental dexterity and talent. In some ways, the Count’s verbal misfires recall something of Les Dawson’s piano playing. Beyond the surface buffoonery, there is the reality of how good you have to be at something to get it marginally off with such precision.

While Count Arthur is not fan of theatre crickets – “little bloody Hitlers with their pads and pens and not paying for a ticket” – this theatre cricket certainly doesn’t feel the same. Whether it’s his achingly surreal channelling of Sir Laurence of Olivier dressed as Richard III singing “How To Handle a Woman” or mounting a puppet show to explain the lingering mystery of why The Beatles were on the roof of the Apple Corps headquarters in 1969, this is a masterclass in character comedy.

When you leave the theatre after two glorious hours of Count Arthur Strong’s absurdity and you feel your cheeks are aching with laughter, you definitely know it’s a good night from him!

Au Revoir but thankfully not farewell ★★★★★ 5 stars

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