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Brighton Fringe 2024

The Life & Rhymes Of Archy & Mehitabel

Patrick Kealey. produced by Sweet Productions

Genre: Character Stand up, Comedy, Fringe Theatre, One Person Show, Poetry-Based Theatre

Venue: Sweet@The Yellow Book 3a York Place Brighton BN1 4GU Sweet Venues Brighton


Low Down

hi everybody, this is archy here.

i’m writing this review instead of strat because, between you and me, he took a little too much liquor last night, after watching patrick kealey do his amazing show about me and my friend mehitabel. 


that was upstairs at a lovely bar called the yellow book, where they have a room that seats about twenty or so, and you’re really close to the performer, so we could see patrick very clearly.

you’re probably wondering why this is all written in lower case, well it’s because archy and mehitabel are characters created by a new york writer and poet called don marquis, back in the nineteen thirties.   archy is a cockroach, but somehow he’s become inhabited by the transmigrated soul of a free verse poet.   archy’s quite a philosopher, too, but because he’s a cockroach the only way he can communicate with the world is by climbing onto the shelf above don marquis’s typewriter, and jumping onto the keys, to type out his thoughts letter by letter.

but of course he can’t hit the shift key at the same time.    neither can i, on strat’s computer.

patrick kealey’s  quite tall, and white haired, and he was dressed in a rather battered off-white onesie.    when we first saw him he was wearing a hat with little sticks tied on to both sides so as to give the overall impression of something insect-like.    he was bemoaning his fate – he, a poet, caught in the body of a bug.   he cursed pythagoras, the greek philosopher who invented the idea of transmigration of souls.   patrick’s british, but he did the show in a very believable new york accent.   noo yoyk …

it seems that transmigration of souls is a pretty common occurrence.   archy told us about his good friend mehitabel.   mehitabel’s an alley cat, but she’s inhabited by the soul of none other than … cleopatra.   that’s what mehitabel says, anyway, though archy’s dubious – he asked her the other day what mark anthony had been like and she’d never heard of the man, or that caesar either.    what mehitabel wants everyone to know is that she’s a lady, a real lady, not common, and though life has its ups and downs she’s … toujours gai, kid.  toujours gai.

when he was doing mehitabel, patrick put on a silvery cap, a kind of  twenties-style mesh with long beaded strands hanging down one side, and made his voice much more sultry.   he had a whole set of hats, lined up on the floor in front of him, and he donned them one by one as he performed a few examples of don marquis’s writing – both philosophical and political.  marquis wrote in the tradition of swift, or aesop, telling often profound truths dressed up as lightweight fables.

so patrick put on a pair of black goggles and flickered with the room’s light switch as he told us of archy’s encounter with a moth, hovering perilously near a candle flame.  why do you guys do that stuff, he asked, and the moth replied that they had plenty of sense, but found a long life boring and  tedious.  fire is beautiful and exciting, so they wad up all their life into one ball, and then they would shoot the ball.   then the moth immolated himself, leaving archy to ponder that though he would trade half the excitement for twice the longevity – he really wished there was something he wanted as intensely as that moth …

patrick’s face is a wonder – its mobility and range of expression matched only by his hands.  pointing, spread wide, clasped together, they were never still for a moment – i couldn’t take my eyes off either.   at one point he donned a kind of scarab headpiece and climbed onto a box to become a mummy from the new york museum, that archy had visited.     dried-up tissue, both from the mummification and from being dessicated by the desert sand.  arms crossed over his chest, he took on the sonorous tones of a long dead pharaoh.     is there anything you desire, archy asked him, and the reply was – beer.    forty centuries of thirst look down on you, he told the little cockroach – with a nod to napoleon.   what country is this, he asked, and archy replied – a beerless country.     remember that don marquis wrote this during the prohibition era in america – a sly and subtle way to get a political and moral point across to his readers.

talking of drink – archy told of parrot he’d met, called pete.   Pete was host to the soul of an earlier parrot, who’d lived at the mermaid tavern in elizabethan days and had actually known shakespeare.   archy’s got the soul of a poet, remember, and this allowed patrick to don a rubbery black bathing cap as he squatted behind a small table, playing with three pewter tankards.  he took on the east-end accent of the parrot and recounted bill shakespeare, in his cups with ben johnson and frankie beaumont, bemoaning his being sidetracked into producing junk for the theatre, instead of poetry, his real calling … 

there was lots, lots more – the yellow book audience constantly erupted into laughter at the combination of marquis’s words and kealey’s expressive delivery.   towards the end of the show archy went into a long riff about ants and scorpions and centipedes, and how they and the other insects were waiting for their time to come, as humanity was busy turning the planet into desert.  it won’t be long now.   fascinating that this was written in the thirties, long before the whole environmental issue had become widely discussed.  don marquis was truly ahead of his time.  

the author wrote a number of books featuring archy and mehitabel and if you don’t know them then you should certainly chase them up as you’re missing a treat.     or you could catch one of patrick kealey’s unforgettable performances at the yellow book, or at other fringe venues later in the year.  


Photographs of Patrick Kealey by the wonderful Peter Williams.