Edinburgh Fringe 2012
An unmissable performance of a witty script which doesn’t require the main subject to be Tony Hancock – it just happens that Hancock was available for the role.
Tony Hancock is dead. He is mourned by the millions who tuned in, on the radio, television and at the pictures, to laugh at the capers of his everyman persona. The troubled and troublesome comic genius has arrived at God’s waiting room outside the Pearly Gates. He is met by a stone wall of indifference by the staff. There is the cold doctor, the put-upon cleaner as well as the ever so brusque nurse. They impressed not at all by Hancock’s worldly fame and they are not going to let him slip through the net of bureaucracy prior to his audience with Saint Peter. The restless shade of Hancock encounters other souls in limbo. There is a quisling reverend, an aloof RAF commodore and an ingratiating denizen of suburban London. It is apparent that in death, as in life, Anthony John Hancock will struggle to build and maintain personal relationships able to endure his stormy, sometimes cruel personality. He is nervous as to which will be his final destination, perhaps with good reason.
Roy Smiles’ ‘The Lad Himself: A Celebration of the Life of Tony Hancock’ is a cleverly contrived piece of theatre into which (after) life has been breathed by a sterling performance from Mark Brailsford in the title role. Brailsford’s witty, thoughtful and uncanny performance is an instant hit. Any actor who can draw a universal chuckle even before opening his mouth knows what he is about. His interactions with the other characters are closely timed set pieces leading up to a final reckoning which is both powerful and honest. Brailsford’s Hancock is unmissable.
A great strength of this production is that neither the underlying concept nor the script require the main subject to be Tony Hancock, it just happens that Hancock was available for the role. This play transcends the well-trod path of Christmas Carolian flashbacks (the basis of many Fringe biopics) whilst ascending beyond the perils of pure fan fiction. This show will not disappoint those who cherish Hancock’s memory. But as a drama it will also satisfy those less familiar with the life and times of the great comic legend – to which former world power was Stafford Cripps ambassador?
The show is still not quite settled into the Fringe, some of the sightlines need double checking and the final twist could be tighter if a certain set of objects were not revealed so quickly. The set is very clinical and whilst this is a good fit for the script I have no more desire to spend an hour there than Hancock does. The costumes are in need of freshening – shoe polish is, I’m told, readily available in Edinburgh. Saint Peter’s wings make the guardian of the gates to heaven appear to be on the way to a hen night. They distract from what ought to be a very solemn moment at the height of the drama.
‘The Lad Himself’ is well on its way to the boundary line – it may even cross without a bounce.