Game show host, gag writer and show biz legend Bob Monkhouse was, in today’s parlance, a Marmite actor. He was the only performer ever to be awarded the most loved and most despised entertainer gong in the same year.
The press were unbelievably cruel to him, dubbing him oily, smug, self-centred, insincere and more. But there was no denying the man’s enormous and prodigious talent.
Now writer and fan Alex Lowe has come up with The Man Called Monkhouse that not only gives centre stage to a remarkable impersonation of the star by Simon Cartwright, but gives audiences an insight into the man behind the make-up.
The show, a huge hit at this year’s Edinburgh Fringe, is now on a UK tour of one-nighters. I caught it on Friday night at the Court Theatre, Tring and, superb as the production and performance is, I wouldn’t bother taking your coat off. It’s done and dusted in less than an hour.
Cartwright gives a faultless performance. Gosh, the voice, the rolling eyes, the mannerisms, even the jokes, are all there (and told with the same polish and timing as their originator).
But how I wish Lowe could have expanded what is effectively a top class monologue, into a fuller production. Fifty-five minutes is, in my book, a bit of a joke.
Lowe uses two framing devices to hone in on a particular time in Monkhouse’s life, the stealing of his treasured joke books in 1995 and the 20th anniversary of the death of his former writing partner Denis Goodwin
We’re in the study of Claridges, his beautiful Bedfordshire home just a stone’s throw from the Court Theatre, and Monkhouse is trying to get through to an underwhelmed cop at Scotland Yard, the importance of his unique and irreplaceable books which contained some of the thousands of jokes he created over a lifetime’s work.
In the meantime he has to come up with a eulogy for Goodwin’s memorial service and it gives him time to reflect on his life.
There are emotional and heart-rending recollections of a cold and distant mother; snapshots of his performances hosting game shows; revelations about his womanising (which nearly resulted in Diana Dors’ violent husband exacting lethal revenge); the stars he worked with and scintillating backstage gossip.
It is a tour de force performance that has you laughing one minute and almost sobbing the next. Particularly poignant is mention of the entertainer’s family and their shabby treatment by one redtop tabloid. It is a sour note to end the performance but remarkably effective.
Director Bob Golding, who has himself performed as Eric Morecambe, delivers a fascinating and clever production but I’d love to see more. Surely a second act isn’t too much to ask?
The Man Called Monkhouse goes to Royal & Derngate, Northampton (Sept 29); Lighthouse Theatre, Poole (Oct 3); The Place, Bedford (Oct 4) and Devonshire Park Theatre, Eastbourne (Oct 16-17).
Simon Cartwright delivers a tour de force performance as entertainer and presenter Bob Monkhouse in Alex Lowe’s superbly crafted play, The Man Called Monkhouse.