This play centres on three of the main stars, Sidney James, Kenneth Williams and Barbara Windsor. We discover that Sid James was a gambler and womaniser who was unable, or unwilling, to stay faithful to his wife. He was a very insecure man who worried about becoming old. Kenneth Williams, who was gay, was also insecure and had many personal and health problems. We discover how Barbara Windsor loved both these men in very different ways, but she too was having problems of her own.
This story may sound dreary, but it is not. It is very funny, with the laughs coming because the actors successfully mimic the original stars. Samantha Spiro is convincing as 'Barbara Windsor', capturing her bodily movements and cheeky smiles. Geoffrey Hutchings is also convincing as 'Sid James' mimicking his famous laughter perfectly. Both these actors look and sound like the 'real thing'. However, Adam Godley looks nothing like 'Kenneth Williams', but he has succeeded in capturing Williams' accent and mannerisms. In fact, Adam pulls off his Kenneth Williams impersonation with superb timing and camp, and is truly the one that receives the most laughs.
This is another great Royal National Theatre production. The quality of their productions in recent years has been phenomenal, bringing out the best in the actors and production staff alike. 'Cleo, Camping, Emmanuelle and Dick' is yet another fine production that will be enjoyed by many fans of the great 'Carry On' films.
Terry Johnson does not go too deeply in to the 'Carry On' actors' lives and thus captures a nice balance between their personal problems and at the same time displaying some of their comical traits, which we both know and love.
Most of the popular press enjoyed the show: ROBERT HANKS of THE FINANCIAL TIMES says, "This is a marvellously enjoyable, well-acted play, and one that speaks directly to the naughty schoolboy that lurks in all of us." CHARLES SPENCER of THE DAILY TELEGRAPH says, "It's a lovely piece, affectionate, richly funny and hugely touching." DOMINIC CAVENDISH of THE INDEPENDENT says, "Adam Godley captures the whinnying exuberance and nasal hauteur of Williams perfectly." NICHOLAS DE JONGH of EVENING STANDARD says, "I worry that the National's financial pressures may be driving Trevor Nunn to give house-room to pleasurable though trivial frivolities like this." PETER HEPPLE of THE STAGE says, "The only character who seems truly real is Barbara Windsor, played as a genuine innocent by Samantha Spiro, whose likeness to the original is uncanny."
Fans of the 'Carry On' films will find this play sad in parts, but nevertheless it still captures the slapstick comedy and the essence of the 'Carry On' characters.
Tourists who have not seen any of the 'Carry On' films may wonder what all the fuss is about. I think you need to be familiar with the characters to fully appreciate this wonderful play.
Fans of the 'Carry On' films, 'GO AND SEE IT!' Those not familiar with the films, 'STAY AWAY!'
The series of "Carry On..." films began in 1958 with Carry On Sergeant and became a British institution throughout the sixties and seventies with twenty-eight sequels culminating with Carry On Emmanuelle in 1978. The programme for this play at the National contains a "carryonology" which lists each film (sensibly ignoring Carry On Columbus) from the series alongside world events at the time of their release as well key events in world cinema. It is quite interesting to note that in 1968, the year that 2001: A Space Odyssey, The Thomas Crown Affair and The Odd Couple were released, when Martin Luther King was assassinated, Nixon was elected president of the United States and Russian tanks went onto Czechoslovakia, British Cinema's artistic contribution was Carry On Up The Khyber!
Now the Carry On films are being given retrospective series on Channel Four and at art-house cinemas around the country and are being analysed by scholars and critics who would probably not want to have even been seen dead at a Carry On film when they were first shown.
The Royal National Theatre, with this new play by Terry Johnson, have now jumped on the bandwagon.
Enter the Lyttelton and it is as if it has become a cinema, complete with curtains in the style of seventies cinemas. The play opens as if it were a film with the credits, in the style of a Carry On film, projected on to a screen. The screen then rises to reveal the set, by William Dudley, showing a large caravan, in which all the action takes place. The caravan is the home of Sidney James during filming and all the action takes place when the characters are off the set, with Sid being visited by Kenneth Williams, Barbara Windsor and Imogen Hassall, along with Sally, Sid's new dresser and a heavy sent by Ronnie Knight to "look after" La Windsor.
When the RNT first announced details of this production, the cast list included Antony Sher in the role of Sidney. Early into rehearsals he departed "by mutual consent" allegedly claiming that all he was being asked to do was to perform an impression of Sid James. He did the right thing.
The play adds nothing to the previously mentioned analysis of the Carry On genre and tells us nothing about the characters - the real-life stars of the films. We see Sid portrayed as a lecherous womaniser, keen to have his way with any female who happens to come his way, although unlike the characters he played in the films, he actually seems to be successful at enticing women into his bedroom. The "character" of Barbara Windsor is hardly developed at all. I wonder whether this could be because she is the only one of the three still living and could be in a position to sue if Terry Johnson portrayed her in a bad light. Kenneth Williams' character, for me, was the one who we were really given a sense of his real off-screen persona. Perhaps this was because Johnson had at his disposal volumes of Williams' own diaries for material.
The play is enjoyable, and very funny as well. There are some superb one-liners for all the cast and some corny jokes worthy of a Carry On film themselves. But the actors in the three main roles are simply providing impersonating the original people. Samantha Spiro plays Barbara Windsor and performs well. She has perfected the trademark walk of the diminutive Miss Windsor on top of ridiculously high stilettos. She makes one attempt at the famous Windsor giggle which seemed too hesitant. How Antony Sher would have played Sid we'll never know, but Geoffrey Hutchings certainly looks like him, and I was only sitting five rows from the stage. Unfortunately his voice lets him down, with his accent drifting, sometimes mid-sentence, from Cockney, through South African, to New York American. He does not even attempt to recreate James' throaty laugh. Adam Godley look absolutely nothing like Kenneth Williams. For a start he is far too tall, but he has perfected Williams' voice and mannerisms so well that at times it is as if Ken were alive and back with us today.
That is about all you can say about the performances. They can only be judged on their closeness to the originals, since the play never lets the actors explore any real character within their roles. After seeing Terry Johnson's version of The London Cuckolds as well as Hysteria and Dead Funny a few years ago, I had hoped for more from this play. Unfortunately, it failed to live up to my expectations.