Nostalgia continues to sweep through the West End like a plague of 'biblical proportions' (to quote, in a highly exaggerated fashion, part of a line from this show). Many plays in the nostalgia genre have focused on popular radio and TV programmes, for example 'Round The Horne Revisited', 'The Goons', and 'Steptoe & Son: Murder At Oil Drum Lane'. 'Pete and Dud: Come Again' is different in that it's not based solely on a TV or radio programme, though many people will remember the principal characters from the BBC TV series 'Not Only ... But Also'.
'Pete and Dud: Come Again' is about the on and off-screen relationship between the comedy duo of Peter Cook and Dudley Moore - known affectionately to British audiences as simply 'Pete & Dud' (derived from two 'pub philosophers' they frequently caricatured) - who were at the forefront of the satirical movement of the early 1960s. Most notably remembered for 'Not Only ... But Also' and their appearances in ‘Beyond The fringe’, both men had other interests. Peter Cook founded a comedy club in Soho called 'The Establishment Club', and helped fund the satirical magazine 'Private Eye'. While Dudley Moore was a gifted classical pianist who had his own jazz trio, starred in several Hollywood films, including '10' and 'Arthur', and wrote scores for a number of films.
There's no doubt that Cook was the 'leader' in the comic partnership, and that his powerful intellect provided material that was sheer comic genius. With a uniquely brilliant mind, Cook had a 'take' on life which, if not quite rooted in the bizarre, certainly focused on the unusual. For example, I saw Cook on a chat show some years ago when he suddenly launched into a discourse about 'negative advertising'. At the time, Nazi war criminal Klaus Barbie was in the news, and Cook speculated how much a well-known sports shoe manufacturer would pay Barbie NOT to wear their trainers. It's also shown quite clearly in several parts of 'Pete and Dud: Come Again', for example when Cook talks about a 'bear-proof cat flap', or when asked his impressions when he met the Queen after a Royal variety Performance says "She (the Queen) looks a lot taller than she does on the stamps".
It's no wonder then that Cook has been the inspiration for a generation or more of British comedians, and that his influence still pervades British comedy. But in personal terms, Cook was not always easy to deal with, and his drinking in particular eventually led to a deterioration in the relationship between Cook and Moore which is carefully described in Chris Bartlett and Nick Awde's excellent script for 'Pete and Dud: Come Again'. I'm not sure how many of the lines in the play are attributable to Cook himself, but many feel like Cook's even if they are not direct quotes.
Set in 1982, the format for 'Pete and Dud: Come Again' is a TV chat show where Dudley Moore is being interviewed. Interspersed between scenes from the chat show are flash-backs where we see Moore and Cook at different periods in their lives. The show chronicles their time as part of the 'Beyond The Fringe' team, through their BBC series, and on to the infamous 'Derek and Clive' recordings that have achieved considerable notoriety and something approximating to cult status.
Although the script approaches the story from Dudley Moor's perspective, the writers have not attempted to re-write history. Having worked with director Joe McGrath (one of the characters in this show) I can at least vouch for some of the frustrations which Moore and McGrath had to endure while working with Cook.
The chat show format for 'Pete and Dud: Come Again' started a little uneasily but soon got into its stride helped along with a little generosity from the appreciative and responsive packed house. Janet Bird's set was much as I remember from chat shows of the early 80s - the heyday of that particular TV format. And the transitions between chat show and flash-backs worked well thanks to a neat blend of sound and lighting effects.
Kevin Bishop as Dudley Moore and Tom Goodman-Hill as Cook, gave excellent portrayals and worked very effectively together. Although both characterisations were close 'impersonations', there was enough room to allow some individuality in performance to shine through. Goodman-Hill has most of the best lines, for example when he says to Moore: 'You're going up in the world, figuratively speaking of course'. And he delivers them with the kind of off-hand panache typically characteristic of Cook.
Although there's good support from all the other actors in this 6-man show, most notable was the immensely adaptable Fergus Craig who provided a spot-on impersonation of Alan Bennett’s northern drawl, and then switched effortlessly into the mild Scottish accent of Joe McGrath.
There's only one disappointment in this show and that is that Kevin Bishop is not quite short enough, and Tom Goodman-Hill not quite tall enough to bring out the considerable differences in physical stature between Cook and Moore. Still, one can't have everything.
Those of a 'certain age' will find this a riveting reminder of the humour of Cook and Moore, but there's more than sufficient to provide a great evening's entertainment for younger theatre goers too, because it's not only a well-written and well-directed show, but the humour is razor sharp and not at all dated or outmoded. Essentially, it's an irresistibly funny show with some cracking one-liners.
What the popular press had to say.....
FIONA MOUNTFORD for THE EVENING STANDARD says, " An unremarkable, acceptably entertaining new biographical drama." BENEDICT NIGHTINGALE for THE TIMES says, "The evening can indeed be funny as well as cursory and a bit shallow." CHARLES SPENCER for THE DAILY TELEGRAPH says, "Shambolic play...Yet, for all the show's faults, and they are legion, I must admit I laughed a lot."