It Wouldn\'t Be Xmas Without Us - Would It, Eh

Note: This review is from 2006

Review by Steve Bennett

Christmas: a time for overindulgence, tacky tinsel and washed-up entertainers. Perfect, then for Count Arthur Strong.

In this short run, the Count has renewed his all-too-sporadic collaboration with Terry Titter, a similarly out-of-vogue end-of-the-peer entertainer who wears a gold lame jacket, ridiculously tight waistcoat and shoe-polished Hitler ’tash. And for all that, he’s still the straight man of the outfit.

As the world outside parties, these two misfits are cooped up in Arthur’s naff flat, with nothing but each other, the porcelain ducks on the wall and a well-stocked drinks cabinet for company.

Booze is a good addition to the volatile cocktail that is the Count’s frazzled personality. It gives reason for his decent from his normal shambolic state to the dangerously feckless – a path normally attributable only to the onset of Alzheimer’s. But it’s in having a companion that really brings the show alive, someone for the count to interact with, rather than the relentless monologue of previous shows, and to provide some comparatively normal context for his increasingly odd behaviour.

Bumbling incompetence has always been the mainstay of Count Arthur’s verbally and physically slapstick act; especially those persistent synaptic misfires that cause him to bark out ridiculous malapropisms, confusing even himself. It’s better yet, when his frustration at these ‘senior moments’ erupts through the paper-thin veneer of respectability to become out-and-out bitterness that his life isn’t as he envisaged it.

This is what makes the act better than simply being a chance to laugh at the misfortunes of a bewildered old fool – though often that’s more than enough. He only has to meekly rasp a festive ‘pa rum pum pum pum’ in his painful Little Drummer Boy duet with Titter to get a laugh. So by the time, in the second half, he’s utterly befuddled by the Nativity story, unable to get beyond the mental block of the newborn Messiah being visited by the Three Blind Mice, the audience is in apoplexy, every ridiculous non-sequiteur only adding to the hilarity.

It’s another fiasco in a show riddled with them: from the amateurish retelling of A Christmas Carol, complete with missed cues, appalling acting and a plot so muddled it becomes a work of surrealist genius, to Count Arthur’s cack-handed demonstration of household hints than goes so inevitably awry, recalling the hilarious awkwardness of vintage Tommy Cooper.

Throughout all this, Titter comes and goes, allowing his Liverpudlian creator, Terry Kilkelly, to adopt the guise of other incompetents such as the hapless would-be actor Malcolm, who so derails the Dickens retelling, or larger-than-life chef Irene, who provides the best moments of interaction with a besotted Arthur.

With this double-act dynamic, and an episodic format that gives the show much-needed momentum, this can lay claim to being the best Count Arthur extravaganza yet.

That’s not to say it’s not without its faults – it’s too long (at 2hrs 20mins, with interval), too loose by even the Count’s lax standards and sometimes skits simply don’t work – but there are more than enough great moments of laugh-aloud stupidity that it doesn’t particularly matter.

Count Arthur creator Steve Delaney has such a perfect sense of comic timing that even when not much is happening, there are giggles of anticipation. And he also uses his character’s ‘accidental’ mangling of the Queen’s English to fine effect, producing some wonderfully crazy, one-liners.

This run at the Brighton Komedia might be a relatively easy home-town gig for the Count – but he certainly pulls it off with regal style.

Reviewed by: Steve Bennett

Review date: 1 Jan 2006
Reviewed by: Steve Bennett

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