Come Again: The World of Peter Cook and Dudley Moo
Show type: Edinburgh Fringe 2005
Come Again charts the extraordinary rise and fall of one of Britain's greatest and best-loved comedy partnerships, through the eyes of the diminutive genius Dudley Moore.
The producers of Come Again have obviously been beaten to the telling of Peter Cook and Dudley Moore’s fractious comedy partnership by the recent Channel 4 film Not Only But Always, with Rhys Ifans.
That perpetuated the received wisdom, presumably anchored in some basis of fact, that Cook was the irascible, tortured genius left behind, and understandably bitter, when his hapless sidekick stumbled into Hollywood fame and glamour.
This version, by Chris Bartlett and Nick Awde, tells things from Dudley’s point of view; how as he grew in confidence he tired of Cook’s bullying, irrational behaviour and unprofessional drunkenness until he could take no more. The argument here is that it was Cook who drove Moore away; rather than Moore who deserted his friend.
Whatever the different spin put events, this play is saddled with the fact that the Pete and Dud story is already well documented, not only (to coin a phrase) on film but also in a number of recent biographies of each of them, which makes the whole story too familiar to really intrigue.
The trick employed here is to set things in a 1982 chat show, when Dudley, at the height of his fame, makes an appearance on a British chat show, allowing the host to fill in all the background material, occasionally sparking off a memory from his diminutive guest which is then played out.
First up is a flashback to the Beyond The Fringe days, in which comedy double act Colin and Fergus prove useful support as the serious-minded Jonathan Miller and the self-parody that is Alan Bennett, complete with tea and digestives.
But it is Kevin Bishop and Scott Handy’s show, as Moore and Cook respectively. Bishop has Dud’s Dagenham drawl down to a T, and perfectly captures the way he grows in stature (metaphorically, of course) as he goes from working-class outsider to accepted star in his own right.
Handy does less of an impersonation of Cook, but he captures his essence, the louche, debonaire, witheringly acidic and sometimes heartlessly cruel rogue who somehow still remained essentially loveable.
As their story is told, we go from TV recording to stage, reliving the glory days of the flat-capped Dagenham dialogues to the misery of touring Australia with a perpetually drunk and unpredictable Cook, once he set off on his self-destructive path.
The play ends with their split; a break up as emotionally combustive as any divorce. Dudley is tired of playing second fiddle, tired of being tormented. Cook, for his part, believes his partner craves to be downtrodden, revelling in the sympathy his role of victim gets him. It’s an abusive relationship, pure and simple.
“Why are you so cruel to me, Pete,’ a plaintive Dudley asks. ‘Because it’s funny,’ comes the instant, aloof reply.
It sums up their relationship perfectly, and is typical of the insightful, clear writing that overcomes the familiarity with the subject to produce an entertaining piece of theatre.