Edinburgh Fringe 2017
Affectionate, heart-warming tribute to one of the UK’s most popular comedians, best known for his quick-fire comedic routines.
The queue at the Assembly Rooms up at George Street stretched all the way down three flights of stairs, around the courtyard before doubling back on itself and heading out down the street. I would never have imagined that so many people would have wanted to attend a tribute show to the late Frank Carson, that doyen of stand ups who graced so many pubs, clubs, variety halls, concert halls and, latterly, the little square box in the corner of the living room.
Turns out that this was actually the queue to listen to the other motor-mouth playing here at the same time, one Alex Salmond. But, having finally tracked down the much smaller group heading up to hear Dan Gordon’s affectionate and, at times, quite poignant portrayal of Carson’s life and career, I’m not sure whether I didn’t get to see the better show – and I’ll wager it was certainly a more amusing one.
Frank Carson’s most memorable catch-phrases were “it’s the way I tell ‘em” and “that’s a cracker” and Gordon’s life-like impersonation had an abundance of his alter-ego’s puns, jokes and shaggy-dog stories, all of which remain amusing today, even though tastes in humour have moved on. Carson never descended into the homophobic or racist areas that others of his ilk exploited. He much preferred clever word play, which is perhaps why we remember him and have largely forgotten those with a lesser work ethic than he had.
But like a lot of comedians, he was an enigma – you wonder just how much he used humour as a veneer to cover the scars picked up by this Catholic boy growing up in the depressed, divided, bigoted Belfast of the 1930’s, a part of a dysfunctional family not short on tragedy and, occasionally, tyranny.
That Carson made such a success of his life was largely down to hard work and determination, the former leading him, at one point, to record over forty TV appearances in just one year in the 1970’s and the latter creating the opportunity to achieve this level of fame in the first place – it was his pestering of Hughie Green, holder of the keys to fame through his TV show Opportunity Knocks, that got him the attention of theatre bookers in the first place.
It’s the classic rags-to-riches story, told with great reverence and no little enthusiasm. Gordon’s portrayal captures the quintessential joy with which Carson delivered his material and he’s no mug either when it comes to taking off a number of the other key entertainment figures that interacted with Carson throughout his career.
The jokes and gags keep rolling out and we’re all wondering just when this is going to end, or whether it ever will. But end it does, the story of a genuinely warm, funny man that has been well-researched and scripted by Gordon and then told with real empathy by this very talented performer. It is, indeed, a cracker and it must be the way he told ‘em.