Richmond Theatre, Richmond upon Thames
If the phrases Yellow Car, The Travelling Lemon or Since You Ask Me For A Story bring a smile to your face, you may well be one of the thousands going to see John Finnemore and his regular gang on this early summer tour. If they don’t, you’re not in the minority. This isn’t Peter Kay, but a much niche in comedy – almost completely confined to Radio 4 until now, building an impressive back catalogue of humour since 2008 in John Finnemore’s Souvenir Programme (the sketch show) and Cabin Pressure (the almost legendary sitcom).
This production is a broad selection of mostly the former show – mainly due to the availability of Finnemore’s sketch team, and a thoroughly brilliant gang they are. Laury Lewin, Margaret Cabourn Smith, Simon Kane and the endearingly daffy Carrie Quinlan all play to their strengths, all playing stage personas within the acting and not many unfunny bones among any of them. To the faithful, it feels like a greatest hits set – Pooh’s Intervention, The Ice Cream Van Painter, The Short-Sleeved Shirts Team Talk – but there are new items, some reasonable audience participation, the odd costume and a bit of AV projection to make it more ‘Theatre’ and a closing version of the Belgium Song tailored to Richmond, as I suppose it is at every venue. There are the regular meta bits where the cast ask John about the rest of the show, which might seem a bit cosy but is rather charming. Unlike the radio shows, they’re not reading off scripts, which is fairly impressive for a two-hours-plus show.
However, for many of the audience, the interview with Cabin Pressure’s Arthur Shappy (played of course by Finnemore) is the highlight. A host of gags, references to the old show and some updates to what happened to the characters – catnip for the many Cabin Pressure nerds.
Although it’s pretty astonishing that Finnemore writes all this on his own, and that the hit rate is pretty high, there are a few misfires and less than stellar moments – the Since You Ask Me story at the end didn’t tickle me, a new sketch about bank robbers on Royal family masks was a bit flat. However, I saw what I came to see, and laughed hard. Like Arthur Shappy, I can’t complain.
Not as white as I expected from the radio recordings, but certainly a Radio 4 audience. Because of the lack of a single blue word, families and many young fans I might have thought a touch young, but each to their own.
It made me think..
Finnemore’s is a rare talent and to be cherished in a world that, sadly, still has Michael Mcintyre in it. It’s great to go out and see this, but the wireless will always be his ideal medium.