Edinburgh Fringe 2015
Two “lost” episodes of Hancock’s Half Hour, staged in a faithful recreation of a 1950’s BBC recording studio in front of a live audience. Saves putting in a laughter track, after all
Hancock’s Half-Hour, the first radio comedy show to feature and develop characters rather than relying on just sketches and a bit of variety to fill the standard thirty minutes, ran for just over 100 episodes from 1954 until the final one was aired in 1959. Hancock then transferred to TV but it’s the radio series that has attracted the attention of actor Neal Pearson, something of a Hancock buff, and, in particular, the twenty episodes for which no recordings appear to exist but for which scripts are still to be found.
His bright idea was to have actors recreate the radio studio environment in which these shows were originally recorded and broadcast and, in this instance, bring it to the Fringe. So we have Kevin McNally sounding very much like the eponymous focus of the Galton and Simpson humour, accompanied by a very passable Bill Kerr in Kevin Eldon. Simon Greenall doesn’t quite make it as Sid James but the show is really stolen (in terms of impersonations at least) by the wonderful Robin Sebastian as Kenneth Williams; voice, mannerisms and a willingness to play up to the audience at any and every opportunity were uncannily like the man himself.
Four shows are being aired this Fringe, two each on alternate days. The version I saw had Hancock dreaming of being elected as a politician and then playing himself as a 90 year-old seeking one last meeting with his three sons before he turned up his toes, the twist being that Hancock played all four principal roles himself in that episode with the others struggling to get a word in edgeways.
Recreating the look and feel of a 1950’s radio recording studio featuring such iconic comedians is always going to be a challenge, particularly when your audience is old enough to have heard and seen the originals but the cast pulled it off, clearly having a lot of fun on stage, cracking asides in perfect character, introducing some ad-libbed local and topical references and covering the odd blooper with élan.
The real winner, though, is the script itself. Galton and Simpson’s writing easily stands the test of time and is as fresh and funny now as it was sixty years ago. Wonderful one-liners, long-running gags woven into the plot, consistent characters created carefully around the actors themselves and just good jokes. They just don’t write them like that anymore I’m afraid. Thoroughly recommended for Hancock fans.