Having been told, on good authority, that I would enjoy Count Arthur Strong as it is intelligent and funny, I was looking forward to seeing what it was all about. I was aware that there had been a show on Radio 4, and a few series under the same name on BBC, but, like most shows I go and see, I didn’t actually know the premise behind it, so I wasn’t really sure what to expect.
At the end of the night I left a little bewildered. I had enjoyed myself, and it had been funny, but I wasn’t altogether sure why. I hadn’t fully grasped the character of Arthur, you see. He came across a bit like an older, drunker, senile, slightly more grumpy Alan Partridge. I went home to do a little more looking into Count Strong and got a few of the latest episodes of the TV show to watch on catch up. The TV show is very different to the stage show. The stage show Arthur is an exaggerated version of TV Arthur, and this could be to make up for that most of the characters are absent.
It kicks off to a bad start, Arthur (Steve Delaney) has had an argument (although it wasn’t an argument, it was more a differential in aggrievances) with the sound and lighting guy, so the stage is in pitch black apart from Arthur’s legs, silhouetted against a faint backdrop. Arthur begins the show, nonetheless, and is shortly joined by Malcolm (Terry Kilkelly), who is, for want of a better title, tour assistant for Arthur, and Alan – or Eggy on TV – (Dave Plimmer) the slightly dopey, ignorantly happy, handyman.
Throughout the rest of the show we were treated to ventriloquism featuring Sulky Monkey and Little King Tut, which was done, hilariously enough, almost in complete silence. When you consider the point of ventriloquism, this is almost funnier because it was done exactly how it wasn’t meant to be done; long, awkward silences being used to perfection. We also had a skit showcasing his skills as an actor playing one of the many Sherlock Holmes (Benedryl Cucumerpatch?) (or was it one of the Dr Whos?), and a fantastic bit of physical, somewhat slapstick, comedy; exchanging clothes with the finesse and choreography of a well-trained dancer. Maybe. Arthur also confided in us one of his infamous ideas for a TV show where the premise is that the TV producers pay for him and another TV personality to get drunk in Wetherspoons, and then he might do impressions. Depending on how drunk he was, of course.
The whole show, titled “Count Arthur Strong: The Sound of Mucus” was culminating to a finale based around one of the best musicals he can remember, but there was a mix up at the printers. A nod, obviously, to Arthurs constant wheezing and spluttering. It was, unfortunately, a bit lack lustre at the end. It’s not that it wasn’t funny, just very absurd. A very short recreation of The Sound of Muc..Music, with the characters in costume from the film, singing some of the songs, and dancing awkwardly. It wasn’t bad, it’s just been said that it was a bit of an anti-climax. Don’t, however, think that I was left disappointed.
I love Arthur. I love his confusion at life. His constant spoonerisms and malapropisms were very clever and snuck in so seamlessly – the intelligent humour I was promised and hoping for, very Tommy Cooper-esque. The coughing, spluttering, and stuttering. The way he scrunches his face up, raises his finger to his face, squints and points. If you’re familiar with Count Arthur Strong (maybe not so much the latter if you’ve just encountered him on radio) then it’s all there.
The TV show has given me a deeper insight into Arthur’s personality, and because I’ve now seen a few episodes, in retrospect, the show was a lot funnier than I could have appreciated without knowing him first. It’s worth a watch. Good, clean (for the most part), ol’ fashioned fun.
Review by John Banks