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King who rules over frenzied fun

PUBLISHED: 14:04 11 December 2008 | UPDATED: 17:23 16 August 2010

IF you fancy a zany, madcap, crazy, bonkers kind of experience full on with the lunatic fringe then get your masochistic self down to Bromley Little Theatre to witness Ken Campbell s pantomimic romp of a play, Old King Cole, writes Melody Foreman.

IF you fancy a zany, madcap, crazy, bonkers kind of experience full on with the lunatic fringe then get your masochistic self down to Bromley Little Theatre to witness Ken Campbell's pantomimic romp of a play, Old King Cole, writes Melody Foreman.

Actor-playwright Ken, who died earlier this year, is often remembered for his role as Basil and Sybil's pesky know-it-all friend in The Anniversary episode of Fawlty Towers. Working with John Cleese meant he was no stranger then to the power of farce, lampoonery and general slapstick cordial. His creation of Old King Cole the other night resembled a Fellini film - kind of genre-less, time curious and frantic.

Children in the audience loved this colourful pandemonium, of course. The play opens with a Mr Fix-it/private detective-type, dodgy character by the name of Faz (Pat Brown) and his assistant Twoo (Simon Peel), who wears a coat of Dalek proportions stuffed with a variety of obscure objects.

Like all good pantomimes there's a sausage reference to begin with and we wait for the two characters to rig up a trap for a rodent which has been nibbling away at Twoo's bangers.

So with the help of the under-12s in the audience, Faz and Twoo make their idiotic contraption. Faz meantime deafens us all as he bellows out his lines and the youngsters contribute tart comments to his inane questions and situations. We heard the 'it's behind you' classic a few times, and all the behind-the-back jokes got a good airing.

As expected, Old King Cole (John Barrass) had a wife, Queen Cole (Pauline Armour), and their daughter Daphne (Jo Rosewell) is up for grabs in a marriage competition.

Baron Wad (Simon Clark) is a weedy wimp desperate for her hand but her royal parents want her to marry the super-fit fiddler Cyril, who was stoically played by a stony-faced Tony Jenner.

The mournful whining Baron Wad calls on Faz and Twoo to help him win Princess Daphne and so we watch the madcap duo attempt to fix each sporting bout between Cyril and the Baron in the Baron's favour.

Staged in front of the royal personages watching from a red garlanded box at Wembley Stadium, the lunatic display introduces us to a much-needed character of calm and gravitas - a sober Nick Edmett as the Commentator, sporting a crisp black waistcoat and bow tie.

First, he introduces the boxing match (which the weedy Baron predictably loses) with a comical air of incredulity, then we have a shooting match and there's some audience participation about a dead duck, then there's some archery fiasco which results in Faz shouting excitedly about an arrow being stuck in his ear.

When it comes to the egg-and-spoon race the director Dan Armour thought it a good idea to get the characters to run about the audience. All this made the children feel involved and their enthusiastic verbal participation was a vital reward for actor Simon Peel, whose portrayal of the gormless Twoo was effective and fun.

And what happens in the end? Well, the Princess Daphne is left to marry Cyril but at the altar she declares it's Twoo she really wants because of his amazing ability to produce from his coat anything she wants, including a kipper and custard sandwich. So she weds the hapless Twoo and the suave but versatile Nick Edmett appears again but this time as a doddery old vicar to marry them both. The hapless Baron goes to work for Faz and old Queen Cole ends the play by throwing chocolate money to the crowd from the royal purse of golden silk.

Well done, Bromley Little Theatre - this dose of frenzied fun brought out the true meaning of festive.

l Old King Cole runs until this Saturday.

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