A Wee Ken to Remember, Little Theatre, Leicester review: After a good thirty years the silly songs still work

 Shuttleworth has never been out of fashion, nor ever exactly in fashion, either

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I cannot easily explain why a line about the long-defunct group Modern Romance always being “impeccably turned out” convulsed me and the rest of the audience at the Little Theatre, Leicester.  Except that it was delivered by John Shuttleworth, a character inspired by the most prosaic of things. 

Other comedians with annoying political pretensions aim their satire at the American military-industrial complex, Iain Duncan Smith and HSBC.  Shuttleworth trains his verbal armoury on Utterly Butterly, bum bags and sheds. And indeed Modern Romance, Paper Lace, Showaddywaddy, Aswad and other acts whose best years are behind them. All have, as John often remarks, to lethal comic effect, “gone a bit quiet lately”. 

Not Shuttleworth, though. After a good thirty years the silly songs still work. Like his red polo neck, fawn slacks and burgundy leather jacket, Shuttleworth has never been out of fashion, nor ever exactly in fashion, either. His “catchy” numbers, with a range of tempos from reggae to salsa, generated on his portable Yamaha keyboard, can be a bit too memorable. You see,  despite John’s stern on-stage warnings, I have suffered from having a Shuttleworth number going round and round in the windmills of my mind for some days now. I quote it partly in an attempt at exorcism:

“Two margarines on the go/it's a  nightmare scenario/Two margarines in my life,  two margarines to  butter my knife

Two margarines but which one,  should I use to  butter my scone?/

It's a dilemma, second to  none.”

Obviously, in the fictional world of John Shuttleworth, an errant printer has messed up the title of his latest tour, so that “A Weekend to Remember”, a prospective series of reminiscences about John’s recreational pursuits, often involving polyfilla with its customary issues around residue, has instead been rendered “A Wee Ken to Remember”. (Just as, a few years ago, the soul-searching promise of A Man With No Morals was transformed into the more quotidien  “A Man With No More Rolls”. Shuttleworth, the versatile singer-songwriter from Sheffield, South Yorkshire created by Graham Fellows, has not been well served in his publicity material.

The Ken being remembered is John’s next-door neighbour and sole agent, Ken Worthington. The diminutive Ken came last in the final of New Faces in 1973, his skills as “TV’s Mr Clarinet” spurned by the judges. Ken has virtually never been seen, and is missing from this tour – Hamlet without the prince, or impressario anyway. Earlier Shuttleworth live appearances have featured the voice of Ken, and those of John’s wife, Mary, and Mary's friend Joan Chitty, a dinner lady, albeit off-stage. (John’s daughter Karen, and son, Darren, remain voiceless). The oral virtuosity that has previously been displayed by Fellows in conjuring these characters is absent, which is a wee bit disappointing.

Still, solo Shuttleworth is worth seeing, even if it may mean a late arrangement for an early tea, or entail the cancellation of a much anticipated family excursion to the Keswick pencil museum.

John Shuttleworth in “A Wee Ken To Remember” is on national tour until 28 June