They won't stop messing about
PUBLISHED: 08:37 22 January 2010 | UPDATED: 07:38 02 July 2010
Kenneth Williams' waspish, uproarious wit was recreated to great success in Round The Horne…Revisited. Now the same team have returned with Stop Messing About. SARAH HARDY spoke to its star Robin Sebastian.
Kenneth Williams' waspish, uproarious wit was recreated to great success in Round The Horne…Revisited. Now the same team have returned with Stop Messing About. SARAH HARDY talks to its star Robin Sebastian.
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Comedy writing legends Brian Cooke and Johnnie Mortimer mined a rich seam with their stage recreations of Round the Horne, which appealed to the British public's hunger for nostalgia and bawdy humour.
Kenneth Williams's unique delivery and waspish, often uproarious wit, which amused a generation, was recreated to great success by a series of actors.
The team have returned to a similar theme with their latest show, Stop Messing About, based on the eponymous BBC radio show of 1969 and 1970 that succeeded the hugely-popular Round the Horne.
When the marvellously urbane Kenneth Horne unexpectedly died of a heart attack in February 1969, a new show had to be hastily cobbled together with several of the Round the Horne regulars still on board including Williams, Hugh Paddick, the announcer Douglas Smith and the great Joan Sims taking over from Betty Marsden.
The show was generally considered a failure. “It was mediocre and played to a half empty house,” Kenneth Williams recorded in his diary. “Joan said 'Let's face it dear, our careers are in the ash can'.”
However it remains a fascinating glimpse into a time when being funny could be risqué without littering every line with four-letter words.
The setting for the stage play is a live radio recording, and the play is packed with outrageously funny sketches, parodies and songs. Robin Sebastian plays the main man and seems perfect for the role.
Talking to him on the phone is a bit unnerving as he does sound very much like Williams and loves to throw in plenty of double-entendres and cheeky asides. Well, he managed to make me snigger, anyway.
Robin says: “I do enjoy being Kenneth - it seems to come to me quite easily. I have to sometimes stop myself lapsing into his way of speaking and behaving. But he was really a comic genius who didn't get the appreciation that he should have. Sure, he was much loved, and we do miss him, but he is almost admired more now that when he was alive.”
Robin says the play has just enjoyed a successful West End run. He adds: “Norwich is our first date on our national tour, so we're hoping people like it just as much.”
He reckons it's easy to understand why the Williams/Carry On...brand of humour still appeals today: “It is just joyous; a bit naughty, a bit cheeky but just basic silliness that makes you laugh. I grew up with that sort of humour so it's very close to my heart.
“We have great fun on stage; there are lots of jokes, lots of messing about and we do go off script a fair bit. I also get to wear some very sharp suits, which I love.”
Robin is especially looking forward to this tour as his wife, Lucy Sullivan, is accompanying him. “She's understudying the Joan Sims role, so we'll get out exploring as much as possible,” he says.
Interestingly, he doesn't have the usual hang-ups about life on the road. “It's part of an actor's lot, and I enjoy it. Sure, you have to look after yourself and make sure you eat and rest, but it's a great way of seeing the country and you meet hundreds of people.
“We're on tour until June and then I'm not sure what I'll do. We might even go back into the West End with this production. But I'd like a holiday somewhere along the line,” he says.
Robin, originally from Surrey and is now based in London, was last in Norwich when he appeared in Round the Horne…Revisited.
“I had a great time. It's a fantastic city, very friendly. I stayed in the Golden Triangle area and I do remember a huge amount of pubs!”
He adds: “This show has a similar format to Round the Horne. It's pretty fast and furious and you have to keep your wits about you.”
Away from acting, Robin is an accomplished painter and especially enjoys portraiture. He takes painting equipment with him wherever he goes. “Sketching is my passion, so you'll find me by the cathedral or around some of the older parts of the city,” he promises. “I studied history of art at university with Tom Coke, from Holkham Hall. It's a big part of my life and I definitely want to get to the Sainsbury Centre at the UEA to have a look around there - I've heard a lot about it.”
t Stop Messing About is at Norwich Theatre Royal, January 27-30, £19-£5, 01603 630000, www.theatreroyalnorwich.co.uk
t The original Stop Messing About is currently being repeating on BBC Radio 7 on Fridays.
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