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Phil Cornwell is Switzerland McNaughtiehorse

Note: This review is from 2010

Review by Steve Bennett

Stella Street co-creator Phil Cornwell’s show should come with a warning that it’s for football fans only. As no follower of the beautiful game, the first ten minutes or so left me absolutely cold as he ‘did’ a long succession of pundits and managers, whose names I’ve had to Google to double-check: Craig Levein, Ray Wilkins, Steve Claridge…

I’ve no idea how accurate these voices are – though judging by his John Motson, the answer is very – but it’s strange to witness an impressionist when the very basics of his art is lost. Without the impersonations, however, you can see how funny the script is unsupported, and it’s left wanting here. All the comedy, it appears, is in the voice, rather than any gags. That said, Fabio Capello as Tommy Cooper is a blinder.

Cornwell does the usual impressionist’s trick of making sure the subject’s name is quickly mentioned, but in these cases I was none the wiser. Conversely, when he spelled out that he was doing the highly distinctive voices of Michael Caine or David Bowie, it seemed patronising to mention it – not to mention displaying an unwarranted lack of confidence in his own considerable abilities.

Other than football non-believers, another demographic who should steer clear is the under-30s; for this is a very dated set of characters: David Essex, Tom Jones, The Beatles… Russell Crowe is notable for being the only vaguely modern voice – and Cornwell scores extra points for not doing the ‘My name is Maximus Decimus Meridius,’ speech, which is surely the ‘Ooh Betty!’ of the third millennium.

Despite the aging reference points, we can forgive the inclusion of old favourite Mick Jagger, as that strangulated whine is always a joy – even though aping it can’t have helped the festival cough Cornwell was battling.

But the writing is forever letting him down. He gets the biggest laugh of the night for pointing out how ridiculously easy to spot the payoff to a long-winded joke was going to be. That said, the idea of Al Pacino’s Scarface character Tony Montana holidaying in a Devon B&B, breakfasting on variety-pack cereal and enjoying a cream tea in Newton Abbot is a lovely juxtaposition, similar in intent to the premise of Stella Street.

But too often – and like too many impressionists – this show relies entirely from a laugh of recognition for the voice, and nothing more, for its enjoyment. Cornwell needs to draft in some writing talent to match his vocal machinations if he’s serious about launching a live show.

Review date: 21 Aug 2010
Reviewed by: Steve Bennett

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