Mark Brailsford’s portrayal of Tony Hancock is totally realistic. Dressed in hat and overcoat, the look, the facial mannerisms and the voice, it’s as if the ‘The Lad Himself’ had walked on to the stage. Such was Hancock’s fame, those of mature years will know of his success in the 1950’s and 1960’s first on radio and then on TV, but also his sad decline into alcohol abuse leading to his death at the early age of 44.
The play is set in an imaginary waiting room between Heaven and Hell. He meets up with a variety of characters. There are the staff including a doctor and a nurse wanting to assess him, as well as a cleaner who seems strangely to be stuck in this limbo setting. Also, he meets up with a few of the recently deceased who are awaiting their fate – a vicar, Burt an eccentric from Croydon, a pilot and a children’s entertainer.
In the ensuing conversations, Roy Smiles’ humorous script brings out the characteristic facets of Hancock’s personality – his opinionated views and sneering attitude, particularly when dealing with petty bureaucracy. Despite these failings, he is still an engaging character for he is trying to deal with life’s exasperations and that does arouse our sympathy.
Mark Brailsford successfully sustains his performance throughout and he is well supported by Caroline Burns Cooke, Chris Cresswell and Mark Farrely. Paul Hodson’s direction keeps the action moving along nicely, mixing pace with more reflective moments. The play ends with a poignant scene when Hancock meets up with St Peter to learn of his fate. This is given an unusual twist which I won’t reveal.
The Lad Himself will no doubt attract the older generations and they will not be disappointed in this homage to one of Britain’s comedy legends. Younger generations who are interested in the development of British situation comedy should consider giving this production a try.
Reviewed by Ben
Gilded Balloon Teviot: 14
1 to 26 August 2012 (not 13)
13.30 – 14.45
Fringe Programme Page Number: 291