Count Arthur Strong: The Musical?

Note: This review is from 2006

Review by Steve Bennett

Count Arthur Strong's long ­ and losing ­ battle with senility always offers some of the more bizarre spectacles of the fringe, and this year is no exception.

This time around the self-imagined showbusiness legend has decided to stage a musical about his eventful life, and this, supposedly, is a pitch to would-be angels wanting to invest in his planned West End extravaganza.

It wouldn't be giving much away to say it doesn't go exactly smoothly.

In Count Arthur, Steve Delaney has delicately layered so much potential for comic release: the physical comedy of a doddery old man losing his marbles, the utterly misplaced arrogance, the malapropisms as he grasps vainly and furiously for the right word, and the anger at both his own mental clumsiness and the dysfunctional world around him.

There's something for everyone in this surprisingly believable grotesque, and the key is orchestrating the various humorous elements of his personality to make sure there's always something for everyone in the older-than-average audience.

Personally, I found the painstakingly slow physical digressions hugely frustrating, as he struggles with his glasses or keeps wandering offstage and on, absent-mindedly picking up a Patricia Cornwell novel and becoming distracted by that. But for others, that was the cue that tipped them into quiet hysteria.

On the other hand, I loved his enraged rants in which he tries to spit out aggravation, bile and petulant revenge, especially at the theatre critic of the Doncaster Recorder, only to find him hampered by a lack of mental sharpness, which in turn frustrates him more, drawing him into some inescapable emotional feedback loop.

Most of the set pieces are marvellous, especially a piccalilli taste test involving his put-upon sidekick, and every cackhanded sample of the promised musical: his Ode to Doncaster, delivered wearing angel wings; the clunky script, the appalling and baffling attempt at transatlantic accents, the fumbled dressing room mirror skit, and an out-of-character Eminem spoof.

I could have done with less of the patience-stretching faffing ­- but I guess that's Arthur, and he's nothing if not a fully-rounded idiot ­ yet there are plenty of fine comic moments in another barking mad show.

Steve Bennett

Review date: 1 Jan 2006
Reviewed by: Steve Bennett

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