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Hancock’s Half Hour is great British comedy – Review

James Hurn as Tony Hancock in Hancocks Half Hour
James Hurn as Tony Hancock

What’s immediately striking about the episodes of Hancock’s Half Hour, as presented in this play, simultaneously a new show and a revival, is how coherent it all is. Even decades later, it’s all very plausible, with no need on my part to accept anything is as it is for the purposes of the narrative even if it seems a bit odd in the real world. For there was nothing odd or weird to be overlooked in this situation comedy. I have called this both a new show and a revival as it is a not-seen-before production, but one utilising the scripts from the original BBC radio series. At least in the first of the half hours, the plot could (if I chose to do so) be summarised very quickly, but, in the old adage, the devil is in the detail, and here, the enjoyment is in the detail too.

James Hurn, with script in hand, notably does not always require it, such is his familiarity with the words. But it gives him something to do with one of his hands in this stand-and-deliver setup. There’s a coat rack on stage, for instance, with suitable items on it, but the props are seldom used, with a strong reliance purely on Hurn’s ability to voice not only all of the characters but a great many sound effects too.

I suppose one could, theoretically, shut one’s eyes during the performance, or else stare at nothing in particular, as though taking a journey on the London Underground with no accompanying reading material, and attempt to enjoy it as though it were a radio play; at the same time there’s something to be gained from the facial expressions and intonations, even if all you’re looking at, essentially, is one man reading out loud.

I cannot, with the original run of this radio comedy having been before my time, vouch for the accuracy of Hurn’s impersonations, or be able to make out, Tony Hancock and Sidney James aside, which character was originally played by which actor. But I can say that I rather liked the straightforward prologue, suitably witty but not overlong, and soon enough the show gets down to its core business.

It’s a cliché, but they really don’t make shows like this anymore. Would lines like “I thought my mother’s cooking was bad, but at least her gravy used to move about!” be heard now? The older generations laughed more heartily during this short show. Not that the younger ones didn’t, but there seemed to be a more respectful laugh; we understood the jokes and punchlines, but they had little resonance to our lives today.

I wasn’t aware there was still an ardent fan base of the Hancock series, and an extremely knowledgeable one at that. “I think,” mused an older gentleman afterwards, “he [James Hurn] made two minor slip-ups.” How, with a script in his hand and a confident and assured delivery? I wouldn’t be able to figure out where the apparent negligible blunders were, even if I were given a thousand guesses. It was nonetheless very enjoyable.

I would have liked to have had some ‘lost’ episodes performed; the ones included in this production have been made available to purchase by the BBC. But at the time of recording it was not thought that these programmes would have much, if any, historical value, and so eventually the tapes the episodes were recorded on were either reused or thrown away. The scripts have, however, survived. This is a great opportunity to see and experience some classic, great British comedy. A pleasant and worthwhile piece of theatre.

4 stars

Review by Chris Omaweng

To celebrate the 60th anniversary of Hancock’s Half Hour, written by Ray Galton and Alan Simpson, James Hurn a talented actor and impressionist performs two great episodes of Hancock’s half hour, voicing the entire cast.

The original recordings were performed by Tony Hancock, Sidney James, Hattie Jacques, Bill Kerr and Kenneth Williams. With a fabulous array of colourful characters James Hurn is one man, with many voices.

James is best known for his part in BBC2 Dead ringers, BBC1 Scoop, BBC1 The Slammer, BBC1 Spoof, BBC1 Mrs Bradley Mysteries and his role as Jacobson in The band of Brothers, directed by Tom Hanks. He has also put his voice talents to work in shows such Channel 4 Sven, The Coach, The cash and his lovers where he took the title role and also Blaired Vision where he provided the voices for many British politicians and George bush.

James has done numerous theatre roles, such as the popular London West End show The 39 Steps. He also starred as the voices of David Beckham and Prince William in the BBC4 Radio play The bid.

James has starred in two short films called Is it me and Today both directed by the very talented Robert Reina.
James has also worked on several projects with the talented Francine Lewis including a comedy sketch show for LIV TV.

Monday 20th to Saturday 25th June 2016

Hancock’s Half Hour is at Grand Opera House York on Thursday 5th October, 2023.


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