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Musical Comedy Awards 2010 Showcase
Show type: Edinburgh Fringe 2010
Les Hull's sparkling play about the legendary comedian Max Miller tracing his meteoric rise from poverty to stardom. An extraordinary insight into his life, times and unique style of comedy.
The boom in theatrical productions paying tributes to dead comics continues unabated. It can surely only be a matter of time before we see Dustin Gee: The Ballet.
This time it’s influential ‘God of the music hall ‘ Max Miller who gets the biographical treatment – although Les Hull’s script is more concerned with straight facts than any particular insight into what made The Cheeky Chappie tick.
It leads to some particularly clunky expositional dialogue: ‘You’re on in a moment, and you’re top of the bill,’ says his wife Kath in a backstage conversation that spells out that he’s made it. ‘Yes, and it’s the London Shoreditch Theatre, the place where it all began,’ Miller replies, equally unconvincingly.
We dutifully go through the comic’s CV, from how he was born into a poor Brighton family, began performing in the Army as a song-and-dance man, changed his name from Thomas Henry Sargent, met his wife and worked his way up the variety circuit til he topped the bill, moving into films and records, before heart attacks slowed him down.
If there is anything dramatic about his career or his motivations, it’s not covered here. The aim of the show seems to be more of an aide memoire for older members of the audience looking to wallow in nostalgia. But since he died in 1963, the number of original fans must be diminishing.
Bits of Miller’s controversially innuendo-ridden stage act are recreated here, and we are invited to join in singalongs of Pack Up Your Troubles and Apple Blossom Time. No, me neither.
As Miller, Nelson E. Ward is a competent joke-teller, but doesn’t really capture the conspiratorial air that allowed Miller to get away with such thinly-disguised filth, that would have been outrageously shocking for the time. His main trick was to leave dirty jokes and limericks unfinished, so technically everything was in the mind of the listener.
Whatever his shortcomings, far more acclaimed actors than Ward have failed to get to grips with the difference between an authentic stand-up performance and playing a role as a thespian. He’s more credible in the behind-the-scenes moments, but stumbles over his lines a few times, which shouldn’t be an issue this far into the Fringe. The supporting cast are stronger – Rebecca Travers as Kath, and every other female role, and versatile Graham Elwell as a parade of managers, fans and impresarios.
At the moment, Maxie is rather too straightforward to work as a play; nor really strong enough in performance to work as a tribute act, even though Miller is an comedian worth celebrating. Anything that keeps his memory alive should be welcome, but you may nonetheless be better off tracking down one of the recordings of his work that are still available.
|Date of live review: Thursday 26th Aug, '10|
Review by Steve Bennett
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