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Posts Tagged ‘Michael Kingsbury’

There’s nothing like a bit of nostalgia to liven up a dull January. Co-incidentally, I’d recently been listening to some of the 147 episodes of this 1962-77 radio comedy on BBC 4 Extra and had been struck by how funny it still was 40-55 years on. It pre-dates Yes Minister, which didn’t appear until three years after it ended, and may well be the first satire on the civil service. It even led to Finnish, Swedish and South African versions (where it was also made into a film)!

The same team that so successfully brought us Round the Horne Revisited have now taken two classic scripts (neither if which I’d heard) of this other radio show from a similar period and recreated the studio recordings, script in hand, sound affects stage right, in the same fashion. The General Assistance Department helps out other ministries when they’re overloaded. In the first episode, Lennox-Brown (Number One) and Lamb (Number Two) end up orbiting the earth in a US spacecraft having been asked to help the Americans but instead stifling them with bureaucracy. It’s delightfully barmy. In the second they are helping the Ministry of Defence when a pile of old junk gets confused for a new weapon, is copied by the Russians and becomes the focus of a disarmament deal. Just as barmy, but also very funny.

Stephen Critchlow and Robin Sebastian are great as One and Two respectively, with Sydney Stevenson an absolute delight as their secretary Mildred. Looming over them all is their boss Sir Gregory Pitkin, a terrific turn from Jon Glover. Harold Wilson makes a couple of appearances, created by the excellent David Benson, who also plays a number of other roles, and brilliantly authentic announcer Charles Armstrong also provides a few cameos. There are some fluffs, asides and ad libs which add to the live recording feel. Brian Cooke has adapted the scripts he wrote with the series creator Edward Taylor and Jonnie Mortimer and Michael Kingsbury directs, as he did the earlier show. 

I suspect this too will be a success and transfer. It’s perfect for those of us of a certain age, but there were lots in the audience who can’t have been around to hear it on the radio first time round, and they appeared to be having as much of a ball as I was.

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The White Bear in Kennington is punching above its weight again with this black comedy by Julian Sims. A New York Jewish family end up as refugees in Ukraine following a nuclear attack whilst they were airborne. Most of the world is wiped out, but where they are in Crimea and where they want to be in Israel are still inhabitable.

It’s a fairly formulaic fish-out-of-water scenario which is raised significantly my Michael Kingsbury’s production and a set of excellent performances which squeeze out a lot more laughs than written. It’s given an absurd / surreal edge which successfully papers over the implausibility and predictability of some of the plot. A cracking performance by Sue Kelvin as the NY Jewish mother obsessed with her material possessions, and in particular her shoes, is worth the ticket price alone.

It’s a fast paced 80 minutes, but I think they should dump the unnecessary interval as to some extent it builds expectations of a meatier second half which really just ties up the ends and delivers a denouement. However, this is quality fringe fare and well worth a visit.

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