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NB: as of 23 September 2008, all new artSMart articles are being published on the site news.artsmart.co.za.

GOOD EVENING (article first published : 2007-07-12)

Presented by Pieter Toerien Productions and recently seen at the National Arts Festival in Grahamstown, Good Evening is a fascinating play about four university graduates who combined their considerable talents in 1959 and set about changing the face of British comedy.

Those four young men were Peter Cook and Jonathan Miller from Cambridge and Dudley Moore and Alan Bennett from Oxford. In Good Evening, we discover that they all had “the grim task”, as they put it, of putting their careers on hold to present their Beyond the Fringe for the Edinburgh Festival.

Originally intended as a clever undergraduate review, it was eventually performed on the West End and on Broadway with Peter Cook and Dudley Moore going on to become household names.

Good Evening is written by Roy Smiles who is based in the UK. Don’t be misled into thinking that the show offers a programme of original sketches by the foursome. This wasn’t possible due to copyright constraints. However, Roy Smiles has very cleverly taken the style of writing and produced similar scenarios. Fans of Beyond the Fringe will immediately recognise the allusion to certain characters and situations.

Under the skilful and sympathetic direction of Alan Swerdlow, audiences are given an insight into the behind-the-scenes trials, tribulations, personal relationships and shortcomings of four creative but very disparate personalities. He has chosen his cast well and the production features four of South Africa’s top exponents of irony in Malcolm Terrey (Peter Cook), Russell Savadier (Dudley Moore); Graham Hopkins (Alan Bennett) and Jonathan Miller (David Clatworthy). Introducing themselves to the audience wearing placards carrying the messages “Dead”, “Very Dead”, Not Dead” and “Alive, We Think”, the four versatile actors launch forth into what is a highly amusing, clever and thought-provoking evening’s entertainment.

As a sharp-tongued Peter Cook, Malcolm Terrey accurately portrays this languid and eloquent man who was the vision behind the controversial Private Eye, a publication he kept going for over 30 years. As Dudley (“Cuddly Dud”) Moore, Russell Savadier is the warmest character – flirtatious, musical and emotional although “somewhat deficient in the leg department”, as one amusing sketch describes him.

Graham Hopkins beautifully underplays the Yorkshireman Alan Bennett who always felt that he didn’t belong and would much rather have been writing than performing. His vicar was an absolute delight. David Clatworthy as Jonathan Miller, who became one of the leading directors of the day, provides a calm and unruffled note of sanity but shows a good sense of the ridiculous in a scene where he plays a pipe smoking nun or sends Julie Andrews up a treat!

The sketches are hilarious – from Prime Minister Harold Macmillan or Malcolm Terrey as a schoolboy in short trousers with those ridiculously long skinny legs, Russell Savadier wielding cane as a headmaster who won’t have boys referring to their improper organs by their proper names to the final scene when they all end up in heaven. They can also be pithy and powerful, as in the scene where Pete berates Dud with the penetrating sharpness of laser surgery for what he considers his mediocre film work.

Good Evening takes into account Peter Cook’s severe drinking problem and how this caused the eventual break-up of his working relationship with Dudley Moore. Dudley went on to work in a number of Hollywood movies such as the immediately forgettable Ten and the memorable Arthur with John Gielgud.

While there were technical and dialogue hitches on the night I saw the show in Grahamstown, I am sure that these have all been long ironed out, so if Good Evening comes your way and you enjoy this kind of clever British comedy, then don’t miss it. – Caroline Smart




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