Review: Round the Horne @ Lichfield Garrick

Billed as the 50th Anniversary tour it was hardly surprising everyone in the audience was getting on a bit – the last episode of Round The Horne was broadcast in 1968. It caught the mood as the baby boomers’ post-war world cracked open before their avid eyes.


What is surprising is that Tim Astley received permission from the estates of the show’s writers Barry Took and Marty Feldman to create this profoundly reverential homage at the tender age of 25.

The evening recreated the recording of a couple of episodes at London’s Paris Studios before a live audience, in this case us. As an idea it sounds a bit obvious. After all, not only are recordings of the shows still widely available, they’re amongst the BBC’s best selling-products of all time. But this simple formula turned out to have an unexpected magic which brought the past movingly to life.

The scripts of course are still pure comedy gold, but unexpectedly the sublime cast brought the whole exercise to lovely life by invoking the sheer adrenaline-fuelled energy of a live-recording format.

Julian Howard was perfect as Kenneth Horne the show’s avuncular ringmaster for Took and Feldman’s eccentric creations. Jonathan Hansler exactly caught the subtlest inflections of Hugh Paddick’s stiff upper-lipped characterisations, while Eve Winters glitteringly summoned the spirit of the sophisticated Betty Marsden whose range extended from the rotten posh to gor-blimey common.

But Colin Elmer’s was the most unenviable task, that of recreating the irreplaceable Kenneth Williams. He’s been done by Michael Sheen, but this was the best I’ve seen to date, the sharp, the sullen, the searing, the whining, the grotesques, in short all the facets of one of the most original voice artists who ever lived.

The particular challenge was always going to be the legendary Julian and Sandy, the first unashamedly gay characters in the history of fiction. These were never mere caricatures; Jule and Sand were always totally themselves. They weren’t “out”. Gay Lib hadn’t happened yet. These two had never been “in” – the rest of the world just had to catch up with them.

If sheer nostalgia for this much-loved show brought a momentary hot tear, so be it – the journey towards or away from emotion is the only thing worth having in a theatre.

An uncannily accurate revisitation. I wouldn’t have missed it for the world.