Pete & Dud: Come Again

Note: This review is from 2006

Review by Steve Bennett

Theatreland’s necrophilic obsession with dead comics shows no sign of abating. Hot on the heels of the Steptoe & Son revival, Peter Cook and Dudley Moore are the latest comedians to be exhumed for a jolly romp through their back catalogue.

Their story’s been told often enough before, but almost always from Cook’s point of view – no surprise given the dramatic potential contained in the tragedy of the precocious comedy genius ultimately squandering his brilliant talent.

But this production – which premiered in shorter form, at last year’s Edinburgh Fringe – sees the well-chronicled events through Dudley’s eyes, telling of the trials of working with such a difficult partner. In a reversal of the usual portrait, Cook’s flaws are put before his unrivalled ability, not as an aside to them.

Mostly, though, this is a straightforward trip down Memory Lane, Dagenham.

Their joint CV is covered by setting the action on fictional Eighties chatshow, Ferguson. Alexander Kirk plays the cheesily inept host to comic perfection, avoiding the obvious Alan Partridge trap and making him a well-observed Russell Hartyesque creation of his own.

On the drab beige set, illustrated by flashbacks, Moore tells the familiar story. From Essex council estate to Beyond The Fringe, where his working-class routes set him apart from his erudite cohorts, to Not Only… But Also to the barely concealed rancour of Derek & Clive, then to the ultimate collapse of his partnership with Cook and solo Hollywood success.

Much of the tale is told through a series of sketches that, at first sight, appear to be verbatim recreations of classic Pete and Dud moments. But the skits - including the drab apocalypse-awaiting drones in The End Of The World and the literal deconstruction of song lyrics in the sketch originally called Bo Duddley - have been subtly reworked by writers Chris Bartlett and Nick Awde, very possibly for copyright reasons, with a keen ear for Cook's dialogue.

Funny as these many sketches are – and how could they not be, given the brilliance of the raw material they are based on? – there’s only superficial examination of Pete and Dud’s partnership or personalities. These are really for fans who simply want to relive their favourite moments, much as the Round The Horne revival previously in this theatre did.

Success here, then, depends entirely on the ability of the actors to capture the spirit of the original performers – and this is where the production scores a major hit. Kevin Bishop offers a close impersonation of Dud’s nasal delivery and easy laugh (though he's a fair bit taller than the original), while Tom Goodman Hill recreates Cook’s aloof superiority, without attempting to be a carbon copy.

The real state of their relationship is exposed not in these sketches, but in flashbacks to offstage moments, which, in the first half at least, take a back seat.

Mind you, these scenes, when they do come, are insightful and revealing, showing how, for instance, Cook and Moore’s relationship is cemented in Beyond The Fringe through a shared sense of mischief, to the chagrin of the more serious-minded Jonathan Miller and Alan Bennett (Fergus Craig providing a wonderfully arch parody of the mild-mannered biscuit-obsessed humorist).

The implosion of the partnership is, though, where most interest lies, and two key scenes capture the coursing tensions perfectly. The first is when a bitter Cook becomes disillusioned with life on the road and callously turns on Dud, cruelly, and possibly accurately, sneering at him for enjoying his put-upon, plucky little trooper status in life.

Cook, the convincing theory goes, needed someone to bully – but equally Moore needed bullying, to maintain his martyr status.

But the co-dependence falls apart in the second crucial scene, when Moore – finally emboldened after years of playing second fiddle – finally snaps back at Cook’s drunken unreliability and viciously dismissive attitude to their friendship. It’s the beginning of the end for Pete and Dud.

The play could do with a few more of these emotional, revelatory moments – as it is, some dramatic punch is sacrificed for the revived sketches that pander to the nostalgists. But then, those fans are a proven lucrative market, and won’t go away disappointed by the faithful and convincing resurrection of their comedy heroes.

In the end, and back at the chat show, Cook is solitary and melancholy, a shadow of his former self, as much as begging Moore to reunite for another series. He has become the victim, and it’s not a position that suits him.

Moore, though, refuses to go back to being the butt of Cook's savage putdowns. ‘Why would I want to put myself through that again?,’ he replies.

‘Because it’s funny,’ says Cook.

It certainly is.

Pete And Dud: Come Again is at The Venue, Leicester Square and currently booking until June 3.

Steve Bennett

March 8, 2006

Review date: 8 Mar 2006
Reviewed by: Steve Bennett

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