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Formby: Fringe 2012

Note: This review is from 2012

Review by Julian Hall

‘Eeh, that lad will go far,’ ran one of George Formby’s catchphrases. It’s easily applicable to the man who plays him in this brisk but absorbing, bite-sized bio play, Ewan Wardrop.

The actor is required to sing, dance and jape his way through the role, not to mention the role of Formby’s fearsome wife and manager Beryl. He does so with a aplomb, in a show that is a sprightly tribute to Britain’s comedy megastar of the Thirties and Forties.

Formby’s simple set consists of a lamp, an armchair, a table and a stand for a number of banjos (one of them presumably a bona fide banjolele, the comedian’s instrument of choice) and a ukulele.

It turns out that the armchair has hidden talents, doubling for a car and, opening out into a lazyboy: a neat metaphor for a dexterous show that skips through Formby’s 56-year life, fuelled by Wardrop’s inclusive, conversational style.

The journey begins with Formby’s father, James Booth, musical hall comedian and original owner of the stage name George Formby. He has designs on his son being a jockey, but George would rather goof around with harmonica than ride winners.

After his father dies, the time is right to go into the family business, encouraged by his mother whose role as the dominant woman was to be taken on by dancer-turned-manger Beryl (‘Never answer my questions, just wait for me to answer them,’ she warns).

As well as a serving as a reminder to just how huge Formby was, with a plethora of successful films and theatre revues, the play reminds us how he mastered the double-entendre.

The iconic When I’m Cleaning Windows and Leaning on a Lamppost are left til the end and introduced with a nice line about how he can never get off stage without playing them. It’s a careful ploy and indicative of the loving care taken with his subject, a study that avoids some of the more difficult things that have been said about his relationship with Beryl, for example.

Soft soaping done with a soft-shoe shuffle? Well, maybe, but as 60 minute broad brush strokes go, Formby will charm you.

Review date: 10 Aug 2012
Reviewed by: Julian Hall
Reviewed at: Assembly George Square

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