Up Pompeii - Grand Theatre, Blackpool
There’s probably a thesis to be written about the creation, development and continuing tradition of bawdy comedy that is so peculiar to Britain.
There’s probably no end of intellectual arguments about the relative merits of slamming doors, dropped trousers, dozy blondes, randy old men, double entendres and cheap innuendoes. found in farce.
But at the end of the day does thinking about it matter at all? We are a nation which prefers crude to downright rude, accepts the tease but baulks at the strip and adores camp behaviour just so long as it’s not made compulsory.
So when Up Pompeii first hit the nation’s television screens it ticked all the boxes. We tittered at the titillation of big breasted women in skirts up to their armpits and men in underwear flashing togas. And we loved Frankie Howerd’s mould breaking habit of coming out of character (the put upon slave Lurcio) to confide in the audience at home.
And where better to set comedy than in adversity? Think the war time jollity of Dad’s Army, Allo! Allo! and It Ain’t Half Hot Mum then move swiftly on to an ancient Italian city about to be destroyed by a volcanic eruption.
But times, if not all aspects of comedy, have changed. So dusting down history and hoping for hysterics is a long shot - and how do you replace Howerd? Well, the answer is you don’t. In this Miles Tredinnick revival based on Talbot Rothwell and Sid Colin’s creations, the producers have wisely signed up Damian Williams whose stage presence may echo Howerd’s but whose delivery is more a Tommy Cooper/Benny Hill hybrid.
Putting it bluntly he not only carries the show, he saves it from being a pointless and embarrassing exercise in second rate farce and first rate cleavages. The novelty of characters called Ammonia, Erotica, Voluptua, Nausius and Kretinus soon wears off, leaving a plot thinner than a Roman candle and as subtle as an unwashed gladiator.
Undaunted, Williams sweeps all before him with beautifully delivered “unscripted” moments and falling into panto dame mode when all else fails. He is news, Up Pompeii is history.