REVIEW: Up Pompeii @ Shaw’s Theatre

Up Pompeii

London’s Shaw Theatre

1969 saw  the start of 2 very different tv comedy series – Monty Python and Up Pompeii. The latter was created as a vehicle for the great comedian Frankie Howerd who starred as Lurcio the down-trodden head slave of a family whose sexual adventures never quite came out right.

A stage version by Miles Tredinnick , based on the Rothwell/Colin tv scripts  never saw the light of day in Frankie’s lifetime . Now Barnaby Eaton-Jones has adapted it with new material by Daniel McGahey and Iain McLoughlin and Spiteful Puppet  the audio book company are releasing it as a 2-cd audio production.

I mention all those names because therein lies a slight problem with this rendition which was recorded in front of  of a live audience this month at London’s Shaw Theatre.

For too many cooks have slightly spoiled this heady broth of innuendo, double entendres, sexism and general rudeness and it shows when the 2-hour plot loses its way in the frantic to-ings and fro-ings of its cast.

But what is outstanding is the 5-star performance as Howerd/Lurcio by the multi-talented David Benson, who has immortalised both Howerd and comedy star Kenneth Williams in  one-man shows.

If you were a fan in the 60’s you’ll be enraptured by this romp which contains all the famous catchphrases – “ Titter Ye Not “ and “Nay, nay and Thrice Nay “ to name only two. If you never saw the show there’s still quite a lot of funny bits here and it was a genius move to record it in front of a live audience because the foreplay between us and Benson is magic – fluffing his lines and even getting his ad libs wrong, as he tells us.

He’s supported by a very strong cast of well-known performers , including Tim Brooke-Taylor as an evil slave trader, ex-Dr Who companion Frazer Hines as the lecherous head of the household and the highly talented Jack Lane – who has his own one-man show about comedian Norman Wisdom still playing round the country – as the stupid virgin son of the family.

For Frankie fans this will be a joyous interlude to listen to while commuting or cycling in the gym and a great Christmas present for the old and young alike .

The audio recording is available from spitefulpuppet.com/productions  from 29 November

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