Live Review: Count Arthur Strong, Leicester Square Theatre, WC2

It's an interesting time for Count Arthur Strong. After three series the BBC decided not to recomission his sitcom, which doesn't leave many options for this unique character. There's panto, but you are unlikely to see Count Arthur on panel shows. And I'm not sure if he gets that much corporate work. I can't see him hosting the Plumber of the Year awards.

So instead he has hit the road again with a new tour. Live And Unplugged looks, on the surface, like a back-to-basics austerity era version of his last tour. There are no supporting players this time. Instead it is just Strong (Steve Delaney) on his own onstage getting as brilliantly exasperated as ever.

Somehow the show feels bigger than it is. This is partly because it is loosely divided into various set-pieces. There are onscreen instalments of a Plan 9 From Outer Space-type sci-fi movie that is not so much B movie as Z movie (and a little over-egged), there is a spot of ventriloquism and a version of the Last Supper which is part biblical epic, part seaside postcard, with Strong poking his head through a painting to play Jesus, "Ainsley Harriott" and co.

Most of all the joy is seeing Strong mangling his words like a veritable Mr Malaprop, from his opening squiffy monologue about his imaginary friendship with Bruce Forsyth and playing whist with Sean Connery to his surprise finale via the occasional crafty gin. If being distracted was an Olympic sport he would win gold every time. The wordplay is wonderful - who else could describe an epiphany as an "eurethra moment"? Or a masterpiece as a "mantelpiece"

At its best this is pure genius and pure tribute to the golden age of vaudeville. In the past I've felt that Strong is sending up old school comedy, but here, particularly during his ventriloquism act, it feels more like he is paying homage to it and not parodying it at all. Instead it is pure, wholesome family fun - in fact I could hear a child giggling throughout who couldn't have been much more than seven years old. Apart from one brief blurted out "bollocks" this is pretty much family entertainment.

The rest of the packed house looked old enough to remember the likes of Ray Alan and Lord Charles, if not Jimmy James. It was noticeably different to the usual comedy audience. But hopefully as long as there are seven-year-olds enjoying Strong's antics he can keep going for a long time yet. Maybe not his finest mantelpiece to date, but not far off. 

Touring. Buy tickets here.

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