Subtitled “a celebration of Kenneth Williams”, Stop Messin About is an evening with the man himself, larger than life and personified by Simon Kingsley.
Choosing quite rightly to hint at the voice and mannerisms of his subject rather than going full on, Kingsley deftly handles a wordy script of anecdones and repartee.
Williams was a complex man, assuming a persona which hid who he really was: everything was both fake and out in the open. We hear about his childhood, call up, and first steps into the entertainment world, but it’s a carefully curated story.
Accompanied by pianist Steven Giles, who offers the required flourish to music hall standards like The Marrow Song (the “oh, what a beauty” line delightfully performed in the fruitiest of tones), and It’s a Great Big Shame, Kingsley rarely lets a moment flag.
In this monologue we meet a lot of familiar faces from Stanley Baxter, Edith Evans and Noel Coward to the Carry On gang. We are there on the stage of Welles’s Moby Dick and at the recordings of Around the Horne.
Now and again a pun might fall flat, but it doesn’t matter. I left with a big smile having enjoyed the night immensely, and having learned one thing: Kenneth and Parky didn’t get on!
And worry not, Rambling Sid Rumpo’s Cordwangle gets an airing, as does the Gallic nonsense of Ma Crepe Suzette (co-written by Gordon Jackson of Upstairs Downstairs fame), which closes proceedings.
It is odd to think that Williams could conceivably be living in 2021, given his contempories Maggie Smith, Joan Plowright and Sheila Hancock. In Stop Messin About, he very much is. Living and much loved.
No dwelling here on his sad end in 1988, his depression or conflict about his sexuality. This is a celebration, after all, of a professional who believed strongly, as the song goes, “There’s No Business Like Show Business .. you smile when you are low”.
This is a smashing show. A little sentimental, perhaps, but also bitchy and naughty at times. The venue, full of photos of icons from the 70s and 80s, affords an effective backdrop for this cosy cabaret.
You can see Stop Messin About at 8pm tonight, 21 Jan, at the Retro Bar just off the Strand. Book your tickets here.
Production image credit: NG Photography