Count Arthur Strong’s Somebody Up There Licks Me is quite possibly the worst variety show you’ll ever see – and that’s a good thing.
The Count, Stephen Delaney’s bumbling semi-retired entertainer, doyen of light entertainment and after dinner speaker, is quite possibly the greatest character comic creation since Steve Coogan introduced the world to Alan Partridge – although link Arthur with the Top Gear job and he’d probably prefer Wheeler Dealers...
He’s a master of the malapropism – every garbled name, rambling tale and lost thread scripted to perfection, and delivered with such attention to detail it hardly matters when he wanders off into the wings to argue with his stage manager or take a good swig of medicinal Scotch.
Of course, fans of the Radio 4 series already know what a hoot the preposterously pompous Count Arthur can be.
But it doesn’t make the stage show any less of a delight.
There’s the Rex Harrison tribute medley (he’s forgotten the tape, but how hard can playing the piano be?), a ventriloquist act in which the puppet doesn’t speak, but which still somehow ends in a fight between man and monkey and a magical, ‘play what I wrote’ tribute to The Beatles – brought to an abrupt end when the Count reads the lyrics to I Am the Walrus... ‘Filth’!
The Count’s awkward stage presence, inability to face the right way, or indeed make an entrance at all, combine to create a portrait of a beautifully eccentric man woefully out of his depth.
As with Delaney’s radio creation it’s not quite a one-man show, but there’s no doubt Arthur is at his best when left alone with the audience, with no topic off limits, including the Book of Genesis, featuring Alan, Evelyn, spare ribs, soup, the creation of onions and, somehow, Little Red Riding Hood.
Really, it’s a tour de France... no...Franks...no...force!