Show type: Edinburgh Fringe 2007
Mr Winchester says “As we all know, the Edinburgh festival is awash with comedy shows that are considered “alternative”. Now this is true, but I’ve seen some of these shows and I don’t understand them, and they don’t make me or Tommy laugh. Now what we do…. what we are passionate about…. what we believe in is traditional, Classic Entertainment - that's right, I’m talking about Freddie Starr and all the other music hall boys: Bygraves, Forsyth, Tarbuck, Barrymore (before his problems) and of course Bobby Ball (but not Cannon). These lads were pioneers, trailblazers, and most importantly, they were bloody funny. Now Tommy and I have two things in common with these lads. Firstly, like them, we are traditional and secondly, like them, we are bloody funny. We do not muck about, we tell actual jokes (proper funnies), we know what our audience want and we bloody deliver the goods in spades”
Cast: Dan Skinner and Tom Verrall
Washed-up old-school entertainers have long been mined for parody; their relentless cheeriness usually hiding an inner bitterness, with anger and resentment peeking through that forced, tatty end-of-the-pier glitz. Pathos, you see…
Mr Winchester and Tommy – the creations of character comics Dan Renton Skinner and Tom Verrall – are very much in that cheesy mould. They bound on with enthusiasm, introducing themselves as classic entertainers, cite Freddie Starr as a hero and pine for comedy’s pre-alternative era of proper jokes and no women.
The parody’s not exactly subtle, but the pair muster an upbeat energy that’s rare in these mid-afternoon slots in airless, sweaty Portakabins. They bounce off each other with ease and quickly engage the audience with their fun and games.
Tommy is the sidekick, treated with all the respect of an imbecilic pet. Mr Winchester’s wife Sylvia used to be his performing partner, you see, but now she’s disappeared from his life, and needs must. Now their banter provides bare disguise for Mr Winchester’s bullying put-downs, taking out his inadequacies on the meek Tommy.
We move through the set pieces, a song and dance here, then an improv scene that proves hilariously racist – in an ironic way, of course. The closest thing they have to a conventional sketch is imagining 24, were it set in Scarborough. The jokes are sometimes sharp, often obvious, but the pair build up a forgiving atmosphere with their spirited banter that everyone’s kept in a jovial mood.
Interestingly, that’s the ethos of many a comic with old-school sensibilities: create a lively, fun atmosphere with a knockabout performance and the originality or wit of the content itself comes a poor second. The writing in this show is better than that suggests, but the laughs do mainly come from the performance.
Charm and energy can only get you so far, however, and Mr Winchester and Tommy exhaust it long before the hour is up. There’s some fun moments in this, but they feel too much like favourite supporting characters from another variety show given an ill-judged full-length spin-off of their own, which they haven’t quite the depth to pull off.
Reviewed by: Steve Bennett