The Venue, London WC2
Opened 22 January, 2004

I was only sketchily aware of the much-loved radio show on which Round The Horne... Revisited is based. I'd thought that it was older than its actual late-1960s period. Had I ever heard it, I would of course have realised that even for that time, its inventively remorseless way with double-entendres was pushing it somewhat. At any rate, I entered the bowels of the Venue off Leicester Square with no great anticipation... unlike others who plainly found it absolutely bona to vada the dolly eek once again of characters such as the camp duo Julian and Sandy, with their "Polari" dialect, or the filthy-sounding but incomprehensible folk singer Rambling Syd Rumpo.

The radio show's last surviving writer Brian Cooke has stitched a collection of favourite routines (and a smidgen of new material) into two mock-episodes. The Venue is done out like the BBC's old Paris Studio where such programmes were recorded before a live audience; the five performers stand, scripts in hand, delivering their lines into old-fashioned microphones; there are red lights to signify supposed recording, and even a sound-effects man and a sign which lights up to cue applause. Not that it's needed. The audience gives a cordial reception to all the favourite characters (at this point it's more or less obligatory to speak of a warm hand on Julian and Sandy's entrance).

Each of the cast plays one of the original company and all that performer's radio characters. I'm not in a position to judge accuracy of impersonation, except in the one case that everyone knows, Kenneth Williams. Robin Sebastian gets pretty close to Williams' luxuriant braying trumpet of a voice, and also has the benefit of numerous attention-seeking interjections. Jonathan Rigby knows, as did Kenneth Horne himself, that the anchor of such a show must play things as straight as possible; Kate Brown as Betty Marsden pulses and convulses her lips around every single syllable in a fine example of what Clive James, after the 1970s TV drama, dubbed "the +Dallas+ twitch".

It's all great fun, and director Michael Kingsbury finds a real chemistry among his cast. But there's only so far you can go in considering five people standing behind mics, pretending they're on the radio, to be theatre. Tickets to the original series were free; prices here start at £15. If it's worth that much to you, though, you certainly won't be disappointed.

Written for the Financial Times.

Copyright © Ian Shuttleworth; all rights reserved.

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