Leicester Square Lounge, London – until 20 February 2016
My parents loved Marty Feldman. Given I’m no spring chicken that tells you how far back into the recesses of black-and-white television you’d have to delve for the career and admittedly the brilliance of the bulging-eyed clown at the centre of Jeepers Creepers, who also wrote early sitcoms like Bootsie and Snudge. I had to watch in my Ladybird pyjamas because it was on after my bedtime.
Our Pye 19 inch set was notoriously slow to warm up, and so is this show – hard to believe it was directed by Python Terry Jones. All the Monty Python team credit Feldman as an important part of their inspiration, and he worked closely with Spike Milligan and Peter Cook before achieving American fame in Mel Brooks’ 1974 Young Frankenstein as Gene Wilder’s hunchbacked sidekick Igor. Eye-gor.
Which is where we find him at the start of the piece, holed up in a Hollywood hotel room with his wife, herself a writer who had taken to the California lifestyle and seems determined they should never return to Britain. Regrettably, the script demands Rebecca Vaughan play her as a boring, chain-smoking, resentful nag and it’s easy to see why Marty should have sought solace with any and every passing girl who caught his strabismus eye.
Due to constraints in Leicester Square Theatre’s cramped and miserable ‘Lounge’ performance space, they’re in beds throughout and it’s not exactly John and Yoko. Especially in profile, David Boyle closely resembles Feldman, and has a nice line in the maniacal stare and the well-cracked joke. Vocally he can’t quite replicate Marty’s frantic but entirely audible delivery but since no-one remembers Feldman’s performances other than in Mel Brooks’ films, that doesn’t really matter.
What does matter is that not much happens. Marty smokes 100 cigarettes a day and in a steep decline alienates professional colleagues by being too often drunk on set or in meetings, they bicker, she threatens divorce both sides of the interval, he dies.
The reason biographical comedies like Eric and Little Ern or the Carry On team captured in Terry Johnson’s Cleo, Camping, Emmanuelle and Dick succeeded despite being similarly based on comedians from the 1960s and 70s is that they also performed some of the original material which was familiar through being constantly repackaged for modern audiences, and remained ‘classic’ – but this show fails to explain how he ever became popular and unlike other contemporaries, Feldman’s work never achieved such iconic status.
Please don’t take this as a suggestion to do Benny Hill next.
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