The British have always had a real affinity for smut. From saucy seaside postcards through to the “Carry On” movies, there is something about a double entendre and risqué gags that appeals to the British sense of humour. One of the true masters of this form was a comedian by the name of Frankie Howerd. One of Frankie’s biggest hits was a TV show called Up Pompeii!. And 50 years since the show was first aired, Spiteful Puppet Entertainment have brought it to life again with their audio revival, and I was lucky enough to attend the recording at the Shaw Theatre.
Using a new script by Barnaby Eaton-Jones, with Daniel McGachy and Iain McLaughlin, Up Pompeii! is the story of Lurcio (David Benson) head slave to Senator Ludicrus Sextus (Frazer Hines), his wife Ammonia (Madeline Smith) and their children Erotica and Nausius (Rosa Coduri and Jack Lane). The family and their household live in Pompeii in the shadow of the ever-rumbling volcano Vesuvius. Ludicrus is trying to introduce a bill in the senate to put a halt to the amount of sex going on in the empire. In order to do so, he sends his wife and daughter away so that Lurcio can arrange a time for him to do some “research” with local resident and nymphomaniac Suspenda (Cleo Rocos) while also tasking Lurcio with the job of keeping his son away from temptations of the flesh. This is made more difficult with the appearance of a beautiful young slave girl, Voluptua (Camille Coduri) who has run away from the wicked and vicious Captain Treacherus (Tim Brooke-Taylor) and his dim-witted henchman Kretinus (Barnaby Eaton-Jones) and needs a bath. As if all this is not enough to contend with, Lurcio also has problems of his own with a career-hungry footman Corneous (Ben Perkins) and the Soothsayer Senna (Jilly Breeze) popping in all the time to tell of her visions of woe, woe and thrice woe. Will Lurcio be able to untangle all the webs around him, ensuring that he gets none of the blame and once again avoids a one-way trip to The Lions?
Attending an audio recording is very different from going to review a play. For a start, there is no set, just chairs and a microphone. There are no costumes – although David Benson rather sportingly put on a slave’s tunic for the second half. Everything relies on the script and it’s delivery by the cast. I’m pleased to say that the writers and cast of Up Pompeii! really delivered superbly. The script was exactly as I remembered with dodgy puns and double entendres at every turn. With some lovely references to modern day life – I am already talking about slating my friends rather than texting them – the script felt fresh and new but totally in the tradition of the original. For most people, Lucio is Frankie Howerd and vice versa and it is a brave performer that takes on the dual roles that this show called for. David Benson pulled the trick of brilliantly. He was Howerd as Lurcio and Howerd as Howerd. Not only were there all the verbal tics and nuances that we know and love about Frankie, but the performance included visual elements that, whilst pointless on an audio broadcast, totally added to the realism of the character. I never got so see Howerd perform live but by the end of the recording, I felt that I had finally got to see the chap in action. Lurcio chatted to the audience, bemoaned the writing and ticked off the poor sound engineer in true Frankie Howerd style. So much so that there were times the rest of the cast were sat giggling watching this truly superb performance.
And what a cast this was. Talk about a galaxy of stars. Not only were they well known and much-loved actors but, for me, there were Dr Who stars in there as well. Talk about my cup runneth over. All the cast seemed to really be enjoying themselves and made their characters, from Cleo Rocos sexy vamp to Jack Lane’s naive virginal boy, every character shone and was utterly believable. There were times when I sat with my eyes closed trying to experience the show in the way I will when it is released, and it totally worked. The word pictures written by the writers and described by the cast were first rate and instead of sitting in a cold theatre on a wet Saturday afternoon, I was totally transported to ancient Pompeii where the sun shone, the mountain rumbled and life was grand – even for the slaves.
Review by Terry Eastham
A feature-length audio revival of ‘Up Pompeii’, from the successful stage play by Miles Tredinnick; based on the original characters/scripts devised by Talbot Rothwell and Sid Colin for the infamous BBC comedy.
Starring David Benson as Frankie Howerd’s Lurcio (Senator Ludicrus Sextus’s slave) this hilarious romp through ancient Pompeii brings back all the television favourites in this full-cast audio revival, featuring Madeline Smith, Frazer Hines, Tim Brooke-Taylor, Camille Coduri, Cleo Rocos, Rosa Coduri, Jack Lane, Jilly Breeze, Ben Perkins and Barnaby Eaton-Jones.
A bawdy riot from start to finish, with an all-star cast. Have your laughs recorded for posterity. In fact, you’ll laugh your posterity off. A cautionary tale of coitus and eruptus!
100-110 Euston Road
London NW1 2AJSat 12 Oct 2019 2:30pm and 5:30pm
Up Pompeii; A 50th Anniversary Audio Revival will be released 29th November 2019.
Up Pompeii; A 50th Anniversary Audio Revival (2-DISC SET)