Laughter on the 23rd Floor: Queen's Theatre
Tuesday 08 October 1996
With Simon's hugely successful career resting fairly and squarely on gags, the setting of the writers' room on a top comedy show is the perfect setting for a play. His weakness as a dramatist has always been his inability to resist a neat wisecrack, turning characters into cocktail-shakers: smart, brittle and stocked with stingers. This time, though, it all makes sense. These people are paid to be funny. All he has to do is wind 'em up and let 'em go. Of course, the guy needs a plot, but given that, 40 years ago, the man himself was one of the writers on the legendary Sid Caesar's Show of Shows, it comes ready-made, as autobiography.
Lucas, Simon's alter ego, is the raw recruit in a boisterous gang of joke-meisters on the 1950s ratings-topping satirical show which faces cuts and cowardly censorship. With his skewed, whacked-out, languid physicality, Gene Wilder couldn't look less like bluff, bullish Sid Caesar if he tried, but no matter. The play conjures up the era, rather than slavishly re- creating people that only elderly American tourists will remember. Wilder has the true comedian's gift of being able to stretch time, the audience hanging on his ability to pack a silence with lunatic intent, or to orchestrate a speech with a wonderfully ridiculous repertoire of anticipatory moans and squeaks of stupefaction. The problem is that the character is shown to be in decline: Wilder consequently adopts a slow rhythm. To pull that off, the ensemble playing needs to whistle along like an express train. Here, though, Roger Haines's cast don't quite mesh.
Among the assembled bunch of egos - based on the likes of Mel Brooks and Larry (M*A*S*H) Gelbart - the problem, as ever, is accent. You don't need to look at your programme to realise who the Americans are. The fact that Rolf Saxon looks like Phil Silvers helps, but it's not just that. Compare his timing, his ease and his genuinely American physicality with the more effortful performances of the Brits and you see what's wrong. The exceptions to this rule are Stefan Bednarczyk, switching gleefully from concern to malevolence, and Regina Freedman, who hits paydirt as the bespectacled secretary.
Thankfully, Simon holds off from unearned sentimentality until the last minute. Ultimately, this show about a hit may well become one itself. It doesn't exactly make you fall out of your seat laughing, but it has more successful gags than you have any right to expect n
Booking: 0171-494 5590
Robin Thicke admits he didn't write 'Blurred Lines'music
Review: Cilla, ITV TV
To mark Tolstoy's 186th birthdaybooks
Arts & Ents blogs
- 1 Thailand deaths: Pair's bloodied bodies found naked on Koh Tao beach
- 2 Scottish independence: Ireland since 1919 is a lesson for Scotland in what a Yes vote means
- 3 Daniele Watts: Django Unchained actress detained by Los Angeles police after being mistaken for a prostitute
- 4 John Travolta addresses former pilot's gay romance allegations publicly for the first time
- 5 Kanye West stops concert after two fans don't stand up - doesn't realise one is in wheelchair and the other disabled
Robin Thicke admits he didn't write 'Blurred Lines'
Lego breaks out of the toy box and heads for the gallery
Cilla, ITV, review: Sheridan Smith embodies the young singer perfectly
Tyler, The Creator says having new U2 album automatically downloaded on his iPhone was 'like waking up with herpes'
Kanye West stops concert after two fans don't stand up - doesn't realise one is in wheelchair and the other disabled
Daniele Watts: Django Unchained actress detained by Los Angeles police after being mistaken for a prostitute
The political class is doing what Hitler couldn’t – destroying Britain
Scottish independence: Nationalist leader Jim Sillars threatens pro-union companies with 'day of reckoning' after independence
Scottish independence: Yes campaign feels the heat as Alex Salmond's NHS claims come under furious attack
Portuguese academic says British are 'filthy, violent and drunk'
£23m Birmingham cycle scheme is attacked by Tory councillor for not catering to the elderly