A tribute to one of Britain’s most respected comic talents
There was no-one else quite like Kenneth Williams. A radio, TV and film comedy star of the 1950-1980s, his camp persona, quick wit and thin, gangly look set him apart from his contemporaries. Best known for his radio performances in Round The Horne and Hancock’s Half Hour, and then the hugely successful Carry On films, his was a fascinating story of pre-war poverty, hard work and wartime service, followed by huge success, albeit tainted with a tragic loneliness and sadness.
Cult Figure: Kenneth Williams, which this week played at the Mission Theatre in Bath, brings the great man’s life to the stage through the incredible talents of actor and impressionist Colin Elmer who embodies the voice, mannerisms and movements of Williams so impressively that it’s as close as you can get to seeing the man himself. Elmer, as it turns out, is no stranger to the role, having played Williams in UK tours of Round The Horne and Hancock’s Half Hour, and his deep knowledge and empathy for his character comes out throughout this hugely impressive and entertaining performance.
Starting with Elmer’s character auditioning for the part of Williams, over the next hour and a half, the audience is taken through his early life where the seeds of his love of theatre and performing are sown, first at a school play and then through his time in the army, entertaining the troops in the far east. And then it’s back to Britain for his big radio breakthroughs, before – as Elmer describes it – the elephant in the room of the Carry Ons.
Throughout the production very cleverly used recordings from original programmes and audio prompts to add an extra dimensions to the proceedings, allowing Elmer’s Kenneth Williams to revisit his radio performances, including a return to Just A Minute and an explanation behind his use of polari, a secretive language used by the British gay community.
Elmer proves himself a master of working his appreciative if unfortunately sparse audience, involving them in the show wherever possible and bringing in as many of Williams’ best loved phrases without at any point overdoing them. As a result, yes, there’s a ‘Oh matron’ and a ‘Frying tonight!’, at least two ‘Infamy, infamy, they’ve all got it in for mes’ and a single ‘Fantabulosa’.
As a tribute to one of Britain’s best loved and quite unique comedic talents, Cult Figures: Kenneth Williams is a wonderfully successfully and indeed slightly tragic show, and certainly to be recommended.
For more productions at the Mission Theatre Bath, click here.