What About Dick?

DVD review by Steve Bennett

What About Dick? certainly boasts the cast from heaven. The comedy royalty of Billy Connolly, Eddie Izzard, Russell Brand, Tracey Ullman, Jane Leeves, Sophie Winkleman, Jim Piddock and Tim Curry all couldn’t say ‘no’ to working with Eric Idle – and all seemed to have an absolute whale of a time recording this spoof radio play at the Orpheum Theatre in Los Angeles. None more so than Connolly – known for laughing at his own jokes at the best of times – who could barely get through a sentence of exaggerated Scottish dialogue without corpsing.

Whether that joy rubs off on the audience at home might very well depend on your tolerance for the corniest of double entendres – if, indeed there is even a double to the entendre – seen this side of the Carry On films. That our confused young hero, played by Brand, is called Dick gives plenty of scope for exchanges such as: ‘Have you seen Dick?’ ‘Not for ages...’ There’s also a plot set in the Indian province of ‘Shagistan’ – and Curry’s character is a vicar called ‘Mr Whoopsie’. Nudge, nudge, say no more.

Eventually the torrent of cheap gags subsides enough to allow some preposterously convoluted story about a stolen piano, the world’s first rubber dildo, and a fortune-teller who reads backsides (an ‘arse-trologer’). OK, so the cheap gags don’t entirely go away, for nothing is too corny for Idle’s broad and silly script.

What About Dick? is performed as a Forties-style radio drama, with the actors reading from scripts and a foley artist making the sound effects as they go along. The Victorian setting and stiff drawing-room ambiance you might expect from such a production plays up every aspect of repressed British emotion for the appreciative LA audience, and contrasts against the zaniness Idle peddles.

‘Madcap’ is probably the most appropriate word for these broad shenanigans, very much in the spirit of Spamalot, but without the Python back-catalogue as a booster. Indeed, Idle again collaborated with Spamalot composer John Du Pre for the songs here; including the joyously meaningless show-stopper The Lonely Trout and another ditty with the most suggestive lyrics in the show... which takes quite some doing.

All sorts of comic business is thrown into the mix – including Izzard having a conversation with himself as two different characters, and separately indulging in some fast double-talk with Frasier star Leeves. There’s more ham in this performance than in a butcher’s warehouse, and Ullman, especially, never knowingly underacts.

How you receive all this depends on your reaction to pantomime high-jinks, especially when you’re watching at home rather than first-hand in the theatre. But there’s a cheesy likeability to it all that’s hard to resist, and at $6 (about £3.75) for the download, it seems like a bargain.

Published: 30 Nov 2012

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